Go green or stay home, tourists warned

By Time of article published Oct 9, 2007

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Tourism chiefs and UN agencies have pledged to "green" the travel trade while highlighting the $880-billion industry's own vulnerability to global warming.

In a four page declaration, UN tourism, environment and weather agencies, national tourism officials and executives from 100 countries agreed the industry must "rapidly respond to climate change" and take "concrete measures" to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

They also said at the end of a three-day UN conference on tourism and global warming that tourists should be encouraged to consider the environmental impact of their travel choices and reduce their "carbon footprint".

The declaration will be put to a ministerial meeting in London on November 13, officials said.

"The immediate risk is that tourism is demonised for its carbon footprint and regulated because the industry doesn't act to regulate itself," said Christopher Rodrigues, chairperson of the VisitBritain tourism board.

Tourism accounts for up to six percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to a UN report in Davos, and the number of travellers is due to more than double by 2020.

'Tourism has to contribute to mitigation'

Air transport currently accounts for about 40 percent of these industry emissions, followed by car travel on 32 percent and accommodation 21 percent.

An EU parliamentary committee has also called for controversial carbon emission trading rules on all flights in and out of Europe to be introduced in 2010, earlier than planned.

Andreas Fischlin, a leading scientist on the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the meeting in Davos that 25 to 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions behind climate change needed to be cut by 2020.

"Tourism has to contribute to mitigation: it's a cause of the problem and has to take up its share," Fischlin said, warning that some warming was already inevitable.

The measures advocated by the conference included greater energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, better conservation of natural areas to serve as "earth lungs," technological or design measures to avoid pollution, and staff education on climate change.

IPCC reports released earlier this year underlined that tropical cyclones, storm surges, temperature shifts, and changes in rain and snowfall were already harming tourism in some cases.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicted this week that climate change would trigger "very large" shifts in travel habits around the world.

In Davos, island states, beach holiday and winter destinations stressed their concerns about shifts in weather patterns, rising sea levels and declining snow cover that in some instances were eating away at their greatest economic asset.

"What's the main image used to promote a tourist destination? It's a nice landscape," a UNWTO official pointed out.

Several vulnerable tourist destinations, especially tropical islands like the Maldives and Seychelles, urged greater efforts to curb emissions but also voiced concern about possible restrictions or big taxes on long haul air travel.

The declaration underlined that new tourism policies must reflect a combination of environmental, climate change, social and economic needs.

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