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COP21, SDGs and Tourism — Just for Policy Makers or for Everyone?

Annie Beaulieu, Director, Australia Regional Office, G20 Research Group
December 8, 2015

Tourism contributes about 5% globally to the carbon footprint. Flights and hotels are the two main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. With tourism continuing to be one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing industries in the world, it is both responsible and affected by climate change.

As recognized by Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, tourism has wide-reaching socioeconomic impacts that — when done sustainably, responsibly and ethically — can be extremely important to achieving the post-2015 development agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs set out 17 objectives to make the world a better place for everyone by 2030. Furthermore, the UN General Assembly recently proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The resolution firmly acknowledges “the important role of sustainable tourism as a positive instrument towards the eradication of poverty, the protection of the environment, the improvement of quality of life and the economic empowerment of women and youth and its contribution to the three dimensions of sustainable development, especially in developing countries.”

Already in 2009, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) published “Leading the Challenge on Climate Change” to support the global climate talks backing international agreements. Specifically, the report outlined key themes and action areas required in order to meet the target of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2035 based on 2005 levels. In 2010, WTTC published “Climate Change: A Joint Approach to Addressing Climate Change” detailing priorities on establishing frameworks and partnerships that facilitate policy making and implementation of measures that reduce tourism’s GHGs (mitigation) as well as measures that help anticipate future climatic changes and increase tourism’s resilience to these (adaptation). Now six years on, and with the talks at the COP21 in Paris, WTTC reported on progress and outlined the preparedness of the sector for climate change alleviation measures in “Travel & Tourism 2015; Connecting Global Climate Action.” The report demonstrates the progress made by the world’s airlines, airports, hotels, cruise lines, car hire companies and other industries in the last decade. It draws the following three conclusions:

In addition to the sector’s work in reducing its carbon emissions, tourists themselves play a big role in fulfilling the potential of tourism to make this world a better place. Tourism contributes, directly or indirectly, to each SDG, but it is directly implicated in Goals 8, 12 and 14 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production, and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources, respectively.

The power consumers have with their choice and behaviour will need to be maximized to tackle climate change effectively, regardless of what governments agree to in Paris. China’s GHGs are expected to surpass all the members of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development combined. The previous prediction that China would become the biggest tourism source market as already proven to be right, with the exponential growth of Chinese travellers internationally over the past two decades due to rising disposable incomes, an appreciating currency, improved travel facilitation and an easing of restrictions on foreign travel. International tourist arrivals worldwide are expected to increase by 3.3% a year between 2010 and 2030 to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO’s long-term forecast Tourism Towards 2030.

Sustainable tourism initiatives such as the 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme need to be continuously supported by the international community and by governments. Much support is already provided to service providers, but a bigger emphasis on positively influencing consumer behaviour with effective awareness and education programs is necessary if we are to harness tourism as a force for good to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice — and tackle climate change.

See also Taleb Rifai: Tourism in the new sustainable development agenda, Newsdesk Media

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Annie BeaulieuAnnie Beaulieu, MBA, is director of the Australian office of the G20 Research Group, a Global Advisory Board member of the World Tourism Forum, and founder and CEO of Freeedom, a global collective impact initiative bringing partners together to leverage tourism to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Freeedom supports entrepreneurs and micro, small and medium enterprises to connect with travellers seeking authentic experiences with a positive social, cultural and environmental impact. Freeedom was a finalist for the 2015 United Nations World Tourism Organization Ulysses Award for Innovation in Research and Technology and received the World Tourism Forum Lucerne's Start-up Innovation Award. Annie has been a delegate to the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance summits and is actively involved with the Committee of Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). She is a fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs and the UN program ‘Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership’. See her LinkedIn profile for more information.

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