Tourism is both a vector for and a victim of climate change. It’s a vector because there are certain exploitative aspects of tourism that impact negatively on the very environment in which it takes place, and a victim because climate change is affecting some of the ultimate destinations on earth – whether that be the Alps, the Maldives, or countless other examples around the world where the effect of climactic conditions can no longer be ignored.
"We need to make sure that we look at each destination in its own right and we need to exercise caution in pointing the finger at tourism as the main contributor to climate change."
We often read about the impact of climate change, and the link with ‘why you shouldn’t travel’ is easily made. But at the same time you see pieces titled ‘Places to Visit Before They're Lost to Climate Change’, on one side talking about the irremediable effect of climate change, and on the other promoting more travel to remote and fragile destinations such as the Great Barrier Reef, Venice or the Dead Sea.
The tiny Pacific island of Kiribati is an example of a sinking country due to the effect of climate change, where soon its climate refugees will need to relocate elsewhere.
I’m not a scientist, and I wouldn’t claim to be a specialist in this aspect of tourism, but I feel very strongly about the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem. Look at the impact of travel and tourism when it comes to flying, for instance. An increasing number of people are calling for a total stoppage of flying to remote destinations, but in developing and emerging destinations in particular we need to exercise some caution, as we’re been promoting tourism for sustainable development and poverty alleviation for the past three decades.
If we look at sustainable development based on the three main pillars of People - meaning quality of life for people (e.g. health, vigour, wellbeing and growth), Profit – competitive productivity in producing and distributing goods and services for consumption and profit with scarce resources, and Planet – the environmental side, focusing on sustainable ecosystems and communities that will last generations, then tourism should operate within a balanced combinations of these three pillars and contribute to the fourth one of Progress – meaning adaptive innovation, learning and change. In some cases, tourism has been identified as one of the few, if not the only option to meet sustainable development goals.
So when looking at climate change, we need to make sure that we look at each destination in its own right and we need to exercise caution in pointing the finger at tourism as the main contributor to climate change, especially as other manufacturing industries lead the way. We have to be careful that, if there are policies and practices in place to limit the negative effect of tourism and climate change, these don’t then go the other way and create more problems than solutions.