As sea levels rise, some islands – including some island countries – will lose considerable coastal areas, says Geography and Environmental Management professor Daniel Scott, who is a Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism.

Daniel Scott

“Sea level rise has the potential to transform coastal tourism and the value of its massive portfolio of coastal properties,” Scott says.

Even mountainous islands could lose their economic engines, such as tourist beaches and airports, prime agricultural land, and densely-populated business centres. Freshwater supply, already under intense pressure on some small islands, would also be threatened, affecting both tourism operators and locals.

In a recent study of 19 Caribbean countries, Scott’s team found 29% of major resorts were at risk of flooding from a 1 metre sea level rise, and 49 to 60% were at risk of erosion due to sea level rise.

Economic impact

“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 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.

Climate change hotspots

Scott researches both how climate change affects tourism and how tourism contributes to global warming. Tourism contributes a considerable five per cent to global warming, which is more than twice Canada’s total emissions, says

The five-per cent estimate was derived by research done by Scott and some international colleagues. It’s now widely used by the United Nations and global tourism industry as the benchmark for greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in the tourism sector.

The same UN report Scott lead identified Small Island Developing States as climate change ‘hotspots’ for the tourism sector.

Transportation is the biggest culprit in the tourism sector and Scott’s research has shown many people don’t know or consider the carbon footprint of their flights. Tourism ministers and international development agencies are also largely blind to the large regulatory risk climate change poses for air travel and the long-haul destinations that depend on it, says Scott.

Through the Partnership for Canada-Caribbean Community Climate Change Adaptation (ParCA) project, 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.