VIDEO: WTM responsible tourism programme addresses climate change

The keynote speech (which starts at 9 minutes 32 seconds into this video) for World Responsible Tourism Day 2015 was undoubtedly the hardest hitting yet. Tyndall Centre climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson pulled no punches when laying out the level of the threat facing both the travel industry and society at large. Commenting on the established target of keeping temperature rise to within two degrees centigrade, he said: “At a two degrees rise many millions of poor people, mostly in the southern hemisphere, will die. it means we are prepared to sacrifice the lives of many poor, low emitting people.” However he warned that currently we are heading for something far warmer, at least a 4 degrees rise, adding that: “Four degrees centigrade warming is incompatible with an organised global community. We will reach for a kalashnikov and start killing each other.”

Rather than expression optimism for the solutions the industry is implementing, he argued that :”We cannot build the low carbon supply fast enough. In the interim we therefore have to reduce the level of consumption.” This will mean the sacrifice of many of the luxuries richer people have become accustomed to, he said, for example requiring a dramatic reduction in the number of flights people take. In addition, he advised that all new hotels should be built using passive design (ie. requiring zero external energy inputs); that local tourism should be encouraged; and that people should stop going on city breaks by plane. However, he concluded: “The pain the rich will have to undergo for us to meet our climate goals is much less than that that the poor will have to undergo if we don’t.”

The BBC’s Steven Sackur then invited four senior representatives from tourism to join Professor Anderson on stage and respond on behalf of their various sectors and organisations. Richard Mills, Strategy Director at Boeing UK & Ireland, said that one solution for aviation was the increased use of sustainable aviation fuel, which offers up to 80% reductions on the emissions from fossil fuels. Asked how this could be scaled up to meet the challenge, he said: “We need additional government support for this emerging technology.”

The one government representative on the panel, Derek Hanekon, the Minister of Tourism for South Africa, agreed with Professor Anderson that sacrificing certain luxuries to which we have become accustomed would be necessary, saying: “To get to where we need to get – and our survival as a species depends on it – there will have to be some pain and discomfort.”

Brigitta Witt, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility at Hyatt said: “The future of our industry is in peril if we don’t do something about climate change,” adding that Hyatt’s goal is to reduce its emissions by 25%. However she disagreed with Anderson’s calls for a reduction in international tourism, saying: “There doesn’t have to be less international tourism, we just have to do it better.”

Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO, agreed with Witt, saying: “Growth is not the enemy. If we start seeing growth as the enemy, then we are running away from the problem.” However, he did agree with Professor Anderson’s argument that the removal of the $5.2 trillion annual subsidies for the fossil fuel industry would greatly increase the chance of success.

The theme of climate change was returned to in the afternoon’s debate, titled: “Is the Travel and Tourism Industry doing enough to address Climate Change?” Christopher Surgenor, Editor of GreenAir Online, explained that the challenge for the aviation industry is that it is growing in size by 5% a year, yet the efficiency of its aircraft is only reducing by closer to 1.5% a year. Furthermore, he said that ICAO has failed for 17 years to develop a global carbon offset scheme for aviation.

Rachel McCaffery from Intasave-Caribsave said that it was great to see WTM focussing on this issue, as she had been depressed earlier this year when attending WTTC’s congress that a session on risk made next to no mention of climate change. However, she said there’s no point expecting leadership from industry since it is so answerable to its shareholders’ demand. Rather, she felt leadership needs to come from the likes of the EU and UNWTO saying: “We need level playing fields so that a company like TUI is not penalised for doing the right thing.”

Professor Kevin Anderson summed up as saying that while we could probably move hotels and destinations to where they need to be if there is the will. However he said the best aviation can hope for is to reduce the rate of growth in its emissions. Therefore he said, the only option is to reduce demand

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith is the editor and co-founder of Travindy. He is a writer and communications consultant working for a more responsible and sustainable tourism industry. He is the author of two books, writes a fortnightly blog on responsible tourism for World Travel Market, and provides consultancy to a wide range of companies and organisations, ranging from National Parks to individual hotels and tour operators.

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