The Carbon Impact of Travelling for World Peace
Annie Beaulieu, Director, Australia Regional Office, G7 and G20 Research Groups
August 25, 2019
As thousands of delegation officials, international organization representatives, media and advocates from around the world are travelling to France for the G7 Biarritz Summit on 24–26 August 2019, it is easy to start estimating the carbon impact of all the private jets, commercial planes, trains, buses and cars involved.
Climate change is again at the forefront of the G7 agenda, so why leaders are not considering other options, such as virtual meetings, to reduce their carbon footprint and lead by example? Unlike Greta Thunberg, who is sailing to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in September, our leaders' time is far too valuable trying to solve complex challenges such as climate change and face-to-face meetings and bilateral achieve much better results. Biarritz host President Emmanuel Macron opened the summit by acknowledging the importance for leaders to meet in person, and also the impact it has. The French presidency took proactive actions to offset the G7 summit by making Biarritz a certified ISO 20121 sustainable destinationand the summit a "green" event with an extensive waste sorting system, waste collection and recycling plan. Eager to raise awareness about sustainability, France proposed G7 involvement via the signing of a "responsible delegation charter" including specific commitments. All these responsible projects implemented under France's G7 presidency will be presented throughout the summit within a "responsible event" area.
Nonetheless, Greta inspired millions of people more than 100 countries in coordinated climate marches on 15 March 2019, drawing attendance not only from students and young professionals, but also from concerned citizens from various backgrounds and communities. These vocal climate advocates see the transport industry as a whole, and the aviation sector in particular, as one of the main causes of growing greenhouse gas emissions, calling on peers to boycott air travel.
Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, especially Generations Y and Z, already having a $200 billion annual spending power, representing the world's most powerful group of consumers. By 2030, China and India alone will make up 35% of all consumer spending in the world. Are these consumers starting to reduce their consumption to contribute to a global coordinated solution? Are businesses and government not only listening but acting? In one of her final acts as prime minister, Theresa May committed the United Kingdom to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. With this frame of mind, taking sustainability action becomes a strategic decision, rather than an operational one.
The aviation sector was able to avoid inclusion in individual states' action plans under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement on climate change. But as air travel is one of the fastest-growing contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, airlines were one of the first industries to agree voluntarily to sectoral approach to climate change. The impact of extreme weather events on their industry pushed them to quickly take on board climate change initiatives to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate risks. They acknowledged that there are 50 years of proven fossil fuels left. Even oil companies believe renewables will be over 30% of the energy mix by 2035. The International Civil Aviation Organization agreed on strict emissions limits for new aircraft earlier this year and governments will soon finalize a market-based carbon offset mechanism for the industry, to come into effect from 2021.
Those policy frameworks are important and asking us to challenge our current system and thinking. How do we build up sustainable innovation and carbon markets that benefit the planet and its people at the same time? Could we cap air travel without losing its benefits by leveraging new technology?
When our leaders and their delegations meet in person, they build empathy, which is increasing important to collectively tackle and prevent conflicts, even when there are disagreements among leaders. The outcomes of those preventive measures are much harder to measure against their associated carbon footprint.
The same logic applies to international travel. How can we choose between the carbon cost of travelling versus the increasing protection of our natural resources, the economic benefit of supporting one out of every ten jobs in local communities and gaining a better understanding of difference cultures which ultimately foster peace! At the dawn of the jet age, President John F. Kennedy exulted, "As people move throughout the world and learn to know each other's customs and to appreciate the qualities of individuals of each nation, we are building a level of international understanding which can sharply improve the atmosphere for world peace."
Or will the hostility towards mass tourism will continue to raise and wiping all benefits as international arrivals are expected to reach over 2 billion by 2030? A defining battle around the world today is the struggle between forces of openness and closure.
It's like the ethical dilemma of deciding between watching a train about to crash and killing 5, 10, 100s or 1000s of people or stopping it by jumping in front of it or pushing someone in front of it. We are not ready to do the personal sacrifice (for example reducing our general consumption, including travel) nor willing to get our hands dirty and directly pushing someone (for example governments imposing stricter regulation to businesses). We console our conscience with the status quo; by not doing anything and not taking radical actions that could hurt a few (economically) to save 100s or 1000s in the long run. Every life is worth saving. Right? It is basic human right. But at what cost? How do we design a new system that is fair et equitable, the main theme of this year's French Presidency, in addition to continuing the focus on ocean protection which is massively impacted by tourism. Do nothing or 'kill' everyone so no one would feel any guilt is not the solution.
Our ultimate aim is to find the new balance for a sustainable world that will foster well-being, respect nature, optimize resources, and strengthen society. Concurrently. no business or government decision is ever free of potential trade-offs. Business can only thrive in a strong society. Society can only prosper if its needs are being met by a healthy natural environment. The global challenges we face are hugely complex and interdependent. They are systemic and we must take a new systems-based approach to tackle them.
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Annie Beaulieu, MBA, director of the Australian office of the G7 and G20 Research Groups, holds a Bachelor of Science from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration in sustainable food system and international trade. She is an accomplished business professional, executive and strategic board member with over 15 years experience. Annie is the managing director of Good Compass Group, an awards-winning initiative leveraging tourism to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement targets by taking an integrated approach to engage more destinations (governments), businesses and consumers in sustainability. Good Compass is a member of the UN One Planet Network and of the City of Sydney Sustainable Destination Partnership. Annie is also a Non-Executive Director of Tourism Tasmania in Australia and a former Global Advisory Board member of the World Tourism Forum Lucerne in Switzerland
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