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Published on Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Last chance tourism industry gains big opportunity from climate change

The dark side comprises serious food shortages, water stress, floods, extreme weather events, disappearing glaciers and coral reefs, stressed eco-systems, deteriorating coasts and landscapes and more problems with transport.  writes Paul Peeters

On the 30th of March 2014 the IPCC released the Working Group II (WG-II) report 'Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability' of the fifth assessment (AR5) of climate change.

The first report covered the science behind climate change and the role of humanity in it and was published by the end of 2013. It clearly shows that climate change does occur and that human behaviour is the cause of the changes of long term and unprecedented fast warming.

The WG-II report adds to this knowledge the risks of climatic change to both humanity and ecosystems and how to adapt to these changes.

Mitigation and adaptation are tightly related: the more the emissions of greenhouse gas are mitigated the less adaptation will be necessary. The key is to mitigate early and forcefully as that will avoid much damage. However, the report dryly observes that under "all assessed scenarios for adaptation and mitigation, some risk from adverse impacts remains (very high confidence)". This means that, actually, humanity has waited too long to mitigate GHG emissions and leaves the world with only two options: mitigate and adapt to severe changes or forfeit the ability to develop sustainably and adapt to disastrous changes . Well, as far as that is possible.

Currently effective mitigation (that really avoids a 'dangerous' situation with very high uncertainty about the effects and development of climate change) has become virtually impossible, requiring emission reductions of up to 5-6% per year. Within a decade the required reductions will reach 100% in one year after which only increasing adaptation may soften the worst of impacts. The WG-II report says it in this way: "Prospects for climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development are related fundamentally to what the world accomplishes with climate-change mitigation (high confidence). Since mitigation reduces the rate as well as the magnitude of warming, it also increases the time available for adaptation to a particular level of climate change, potentially by several decades. Delaying mitigation actions may reduce options for climate-resilient pathways in the future".

And there we come to a problematic point regarding the tourism sector and mitigation. It is well known that aviation's emissions already cover about half of the whole sector's emissions and that this share will further increase if the development is left to free market forces, which unfortunately, it largely is.

Attempts by politicians to govern aviation's emissions all face strong opposition from the sector. The EU idea of incorporating aviation in emission trading could have been an opportunity for the global aviation sector to take mitigation worldwide, but the sector chose to turn it into a trade war.

National air ticket taxes have systematically and effectively been played down by sector lobbying. Combining such initiatives in neighbouring countries that all tried or have ticket taxes (e.g. UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France) would have been a way to ease the 'border issues', and improve effectiveness but the sector chose a different route.

Also, the industry, through the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) is working on a fuel efficiency standard for aircraft, which would improve the fuel efficiency of the global fleet. Sure, the standard may cause very inefficient aircraft to cease production earlier, which helps - but an impact on future aircraft is not likely.

This is due to the ICAO CAEP axiom that the standards (for noise, emissions and now also fuel efficiency) should be technology following, not pushing. This means that it will by definition not be able to encourage the oncoming revolution to for instance open rotor engines.

So a clear message of the IPCC WG-II report is that humanity, and thus the tourism sector, needs to prepare itself for tough times and strong adaptation to dynamic and increasingly uncertain change.

Of course, some tourism may benefit, mainly in temperate regions. But the dark side comprises too many negative impacts like the increasing chance of serious food shortages, water stress, floods, extreme weather events, disappearing glaciers and coral reefs, stressed eco-systems, deteriorating coasts and landscapes and increasing problems with transport systems. 

It is the old list, but the WG-II report is more confident then ever about the severity of the problems and the likeliness they will occur.

Tourism has much too lose by unmitigated climate change. But the sector is still not really into mitigation. Of course, it is laudable that at the highest levels ideas of 'green growth' are developed, but, unfortunately, these ideas are not always based on sound analyses and do not provide proven and sure measures, policies and pathways of mitigation.

The growth must come first, but the 'green' is the gamble. For medium and high temperature increase scenarios both polar ecosystems and coral reefs will be damaged or even disappear.

They will never be as we know them now. Of course this is good news for the last chance tourism industry that might become even more  booming. Unfortunately, the clear views of IPCC on the relationships between mitigation, adaptation and sustainable development is not fully acknowledged in both word and deed by the tourism sector.

Paul Peeters

Paul Peeters is associate professor of sustainable transport and tourism at the Centre for Sustainable Tourism and Transport, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. An aircraft engineer, he specializes in the impacts of tourism on the environment in general and climate change in particular and is an active member of ICAO CAEP WG3 that establishes a carbon dioxide emissions standard for civil aircraft.

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