New academic research by the University of Sydney, Australia puts the percentage of the world’s carbon emissions created by the Travel & Tourism sector at 8%. For the first time researchers took into account all elements of a trip — not just transport and hotels but also the emissions created by the food you eat on holiday, the products you use and other indirect impacts. The industry has been working hard to reduce carbon emissions, but with the sector showing annual growth of over 4%, we need to act faster to make sure that this growth is sustainable.
So how should travellers respond to this news?
Tourism is a huge generator of jobs and income, in particular for less developed countries and poorer people. Close to 40% of the Maldives’ GDP is directly attributable to tourism. Without it, many would lose their livelihoods. Other destinations are in a similar situation: the British Virgin Islands, Macau and The Seychelles all depend on tourism for over 25% of their GDP. Even bigger economies like Thailand and Mexico — where Travel & Tourism accounts for 9.4% and 7.1% of GDP respectively — would be seriously impacted by a downturn in tourism.
So whilst travelling less might be a good idea, stopping travelling completely would create a host of other serious problems.
So what steps can travellers take to minimise their carbon emissions?
Take the train
Getting to your destination creates the majority of the CO2 emitted during a trip, particularly if you fly. If you’re travelling shorter distances, consider taking the train instead. High speed rail links in Europe, China and Japan offer a genuinely viable alternative. According to Eurostar data, taking the train from London to Paris reduces your CO2 emissions by a remarkable 90%. You can use the comparison tools provided by EcoPassenger for many routes in Europe.
Choose a more efficient airline
Next time you’re comparing flights, consider the airline’s efficiency as well as cost and comfort. A newer, more fuel efficient aircraft, will have a far smaller carbon footprint. The International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) ranked major airlines according to fuel efficiency and the differences are quite stark. According to their study of transatlantic flights in 2014, Norwegian flew 40km per passenger per litre of fuel, British Airways only managed 27km. Another resource is Atmosfair which ranks a far wider range of airlines.
Business and first class seats take up more space on the plane so they account for proportionately more of the fuel burn and thus the CO2 emissions. ICCT statistics suggest that premium seats account for only 14% of seat kilometres flown on transatlantic routes but approximately 30% of total carbon emissions. So opting to fly economy makes sense.
Take fewer, longer breaks
Take off and landing are when most fuel is burnt and most CO2 is emitted. So choosing to make fewer, longer flights rather that lots of short haul ones will reduce your emissions. Ideally try to fly on a smaller two-engine aircraft rather than a large four-engine one too. The larger the aircraft, the more fuel per passenger it burns on take off.
Seek out sustainable tour operators
A key difference with the Sydney University research was that it took into account carbon emissions created in resort as well as on the flight. The lodging we choose to stay in, the places we choose to eat, the attractions we visit: they all contribute to a greater or lesser degree to our carbon footprint. So choosing an operator that’s focussed on sustainability — using green energy, constructing energy efficient buildings and improving operational efficiency — can also reduce your carbon emissions. There’s a range of options for choosing certified sustainable tourism providers. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council offers a database of tour operators, hotels and even destinations that meet stringent criteria demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. The World Travel & Tourism Council also recognises leaders in this field with its annual Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.
Once you reach your destination
Walk or cycle
You generate up to four times as much CO2 if you take a taxi or drive a car rather than walking. And avoiding private motorised transport like taxis or hire cars when you’re away not only reduces your carbon footprint, it also means you have a more immersive experience. On foot, you get closer to the scenery and the culture. On public transport, you’re more likely to meet locals and make connections. Cycling is another great carbon-friendly way to explore. Many cities have city bike schemes open to visitors too.
Part of the joy of travel is trying new food that’s typical of your destination. It also makes sense from an environmental perspective. You can minimise your CO2 footprint by trying to eat local as much as possible. According to some estimates, you can reduce the carbon footprint of your food by up to 7% by eating locally produced food in season. Dining at restaurants that source their produce locally also helps support their communities.
When you’re home
Offset your emissions
Offsetting involves paying to support projects that capture CO2 from the atmosphere or prevent emissions from happening. For example, establishing a wind farm that replaces energy produced from fossil fuels or planting trees that absorb carbon. A return flight from New York to London produces about 2.5 tonnes of carbon emissions and the cost to offset it is around $63.
Offsetting is relatively easy using the Sustainable Travel calculator. From reforesting Columbian rainforests to creating windfarms in the USA, all of the projects listed are certified to the highest standard. An increasing number of airlines and hotel groups also offer carbon offsetting schemes: Virgin Atlantic, Delta, British Airways, Marriott and Wyndham are a few examples.
WTTC recently announced the agreement of a Common Agenda with UN Climate Change, paving the way for Travel & Tourism to engage more effectively in the delivery of global goals around climate change. Find out more…