By: Jacqueline Harper, Master’s of Environmental Studies in Geography Student 

At COP 28, the world's top leaders aren't just discussing climate change—they're reimagining the future of tourism. In this article, I will share with you the dynamic intersection where the tourism industry meets climate action. 

Climate change is at the forefront of issues affecting tourism both now and into the future.” - Professor C. Michael Hall, University of Canterbury 

Although tourism was not a focal point of the COP 28 proceedings, there were still extremely important conversations taking place regarding the current trends and gaps that need to be addressed to achieve a zero-carbon tourism sector. 

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At COP 28, the first global stock take took place, while the tourism sector held their own stock take. A stock take is the assessment of each country's progress made on the Paris Agreement goals and the likelihood of achieving them. Here is what we have learned from the global assessment on the progress and gaps of tourism climate action: 

  • Tourism is important to many countries due to its economic support, and therefore, tourism is significantly growing; 

  • Approximately 8-10% of global emissions are from tourism. However, tourism is not on track to achieve its climate action target of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030; 

  • Approximately, 75% of all trips were via air travel, however, the existing aviation technologies are unlikely to mitigate emissions by 2050.

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But it’s not all doom and gloom, the tourism sector has demonstrated that it cares about climate change and there are many positive strides being made to combat the climate crisis.  

Firstly, the sector is seeing an increase in collaboration. At COP 26, the tourism sector launched the Glasgow Declaration which is a voluntary agreement to accelerate climate action in tourism and to secure strong actions and commitments to support the global goals to halve emissions over the next decade and reach Net Zero emissions before 2050. As of April 22, 2022, there were 538 signatories, which included stakeholders of all sizes and representing places all over the globe. Many of these signatories are beginning to create climate action plans, which is impressive considering they did this while recovering from the impacts of non-travel during COVID-19. Moreover, the tourism sector has produced better measurements to track its progress on climate action and go beyond traditional economic growth metrics. Additionally, many large hotel chains are investing in renewable energy and circular economy policies. Finally, travel destinations are creating sustainability plans to combat current tourism challenges.  

So, what are the next steps for the tourism sector? Continue to increase international collaboration; increase climate finance, especially in the least-developed countries; invest in sustainable aviation fuels; increase the infrastructure for train travel; and increase the integration of climate action in tourism policy.

Tourism stands at the very heart of the sustainable development challenge. On the one hand, tourism is the way we come to know the wider world and to cherish the world’s natural and cultural diversity. On the other hand, tourism directly impacts the planet through emissions linked to tourist-linked transport and operations, and through the irreversible damage that unsustainable tourism can cause on natural and cultural heritage sites. For these reasons, the tourist sector has both a wondrous opportunity to lead in global climate awareness and action, and a heavy responsibility to ensure the sustainable development of the tourist sector itself.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University.

If you want to learn more, check out the following resources: 

Find out more about our COP28 delegations here.