By Amanda Stevens, GCIG Research Scientist
No single industry has been a more reliable and unapologetic advocate for climate action and environmental conservation than the travel and tourism industry. Its strident insistence that global warming threatens its future and that a fundamental shift must be taken to begin tackling it is especially useful for the United States in the current debate over climate change and U.S. government efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Noting a need to accelerate the adoption of clean energy and other energy efficiencies in the next 10 years, a forthcoming report from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) will support the industry’s position and its call for strong national energy policies. The report, which will be released in San Francisco on Tuesday, aims to help inform policymakers and citizens around the world of “the magnitude of the problem of climate change on the planet, and our collective political and public ownership of our collective climate problems,” says Goldrick-Rab, the GSBTGC’s founder and executive director.
The GSTC’s call is backed by a growing body of research and economic analysis that shows high-impact and measurable effects that climate change can have on the travel and tourism sector. For example, research from Ph.D. student Michael Coffman and support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) shows that increased oceanic temperatures can negatively impact the tourism industry’s key industries of tourism and cruise tourism, and that tourism facilities within tourism zones are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and its change in local weather patterns. Recent NSF-supported research shows that tourism could be negatively impacted by actions taken by major cities with large populations and external access points to the ocean. And a 2015 report co-authored by Goldrick-Rab and the GSBTGC reveals that climate change threatens the future of the world’s worst-affected coral reefs, and highlights cities and regions that are at high risk of this loss.
“Through our research we’ve become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on the tourism industry, and more importantly, how to adapt our industry to a changing world,” says Goldrick-Rab. She estimates that the impacts could range from crop loss and heat-related disease to extreme weather, rising seas, and more intense wildfires and heat waves.
“While policy focus is largely on cities and states, far too many mitigation strategies are developed with regard to limited areas within the country,” says Goldrick-Rab. “We must look at national policy solutions to the global problem of climate change. We must understand the importance of sustainable tourism to the global economy, and to consumers’ expectations of healthy travel. The GSTC is playing a leading role in making climate-smart tourism a reality.”
One specific action that the GSTC report recommends is “Expanding subsidies” to help generate jobs in economically productive sectors of the transportation and tourism industries that have not benefited from state and local subsidies currently in place. The report argues that carbon-emitting fuels used by the industry, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, are subsidized from government support that many other industries receive, including high-income industries that can more efficiently utilize alternative energy resources.
The GSTC is already pushing for action on issues that these subsidies should address. Since its founding in 2013, the group has successfully lobbied state and federal governments to reduce subsidies on oil and natural gas, and to limit rates on federal loans and other financial support for fossil fuel firms.
Since June 2015, the GSTC has also been working on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held in September 2015, by leading sectors in the travel and tourism industry. The SDGs aim to ensure the world has low-carbon, inclusive, safe, healthy, resilient, and resilient lives and environments by 2030. The group recommends that the world implement an “ecosystem-based approach” as a specific goal that will address sustainable development. This approach will focus on preserving nature and the natural resources upon which the world depends, including the ocean, forests, and human systems. “This approach will address the interconnected components of sustainability,” says Goldrick-Rab. “It will promote conservation, restoration, enhancement, and sustainable use of our natural resources, and it will also recognize the importance of recognizing and valuing the contributions nature makes to our quality of life.”
Some world leaders have already started to incorporate sustainable travel into their policy conversations. On Monday, President Clinton and President Kuchma of Ukraine signed an agreement to work on curbing carbon emissions and promote sustainable tourism. As the new U.S.