Helping tourism dependent communities cope with climate change.

Professor Dan Scott and two other people on a rocky beach observing the scene.

Professor Daniel Scott see tourism as both a victim of, and contributor to climate change.

A beach holiday doesn’t seem like a time to worry about global issues. But what if climate change washes away the sand and bleaches the coral, or a more intense hurricane destroys your favourite destination? And what if you consider that your travel activities are an important contributor to climate change?

Geography and Environmental Management (GEM) professor Daniel Scott, who is a Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism, researches how climate change affects tourism – and vice-versa.

Through the Partnership for Canada-Caribbean Community Climate Change Adaptation (ParCA), Scott leads a team of researchers at five universities studying coastal communities in the Caribbean and Atlantic Canada. The project has received $2.5 million in federal funding to research how best to protect people, economies, and the local environment from climate change.

Scott is also a director for the non-profit organization Caribsave-Intasave which works to address climate change and sustainability respectively in the Caribbean and in vulnerable communities around the world.

As sea levels rise, some islands – including some island countries – could disappear entirely, says Scott. Even mountainous islands could lose their economic engines, such as tourist beaches, agricultural land, and airports. Freshwater supply, already under intense pressure on some small islands, would also be threatened, affecting both tourism operators and locals.

“Most people are unaware that tourism is one of the largest economic sectors worldwide or how important it is in developing countries in particular,” Scott says. In some Caribbean countries, it accounts for as much as three-quarters of gross domestic product (GDP) and a large share of employment. At the community level, economic dependence on tourism can be even higher. If tourism decreases, many developing countries and destination communities would suffer economically and their ability to adapt to climate change would be substantially reduced.

However, tourism also contributes to climate change.

One of Scott’s major accomplishments, with some European colleagues, has been the first estimate of how much tourism contributes to global warming – a considerable five per cent, more than twice Canada’s total emissions. It’s a figure now widely used by the United Nations (UN) and global tourism industry associations.

Transportation is the biggest culprit, but Scott’s research has shown many people don’t know or consider the impact of their flights – even when they’re travelling long distances to places such as the Maldives or Canada’s polar bear country, specifically to see these destinations before climate change affects them too adversely.

Despite the growing economic importance of tourism, the tourism sector is considered one of the least prepared for climate change, says Scott. “Tourism leaders increasingly understand that tourism cannot succeed where communities fail because of climate change. Over the last five years, I have seen much greater engagement from innovative companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and governments interested in working with us on the transition toward climate compatible tourism development.”