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Study accuses tourism of harming environment

A supply-chain analysis says for the first time that travel and tourism must be included in the Paris Accord.

For the first time, the world’s tourism footprint has been quantified across the supply chain – from flights to souvenirs – and is revealed as a significant and growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Tourism stands accused of being responsible for almost a tenth of greenhouse gas emissions, with flights being a major component. The study highlights a gap in the Paris climate agreement, which does not include aviation.

Small islands attract a disproportionate share of carbon emissions through international arrivals, considering their small populations, while the United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-generated emissions overall, according to the study.

The research – led by the Integrated Sustainability Analysis supply-chain research group at the University of Sydney – finds that the global comprehensive tourism footprint of tourism-related greenhouse gas emissions is four times greater than previous estimates.

It is also growing faster than international trade and is already responsible for almost a tenth of global emissions, the study says.

The researchers recommend that financial and technical assistance could help share burdens such as global warming on winter sports, sea-level rise on low-lying islands and pollution impacts on exotic and vulnerable destinations.

A key recommendation given by the study, called The Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism, is to “fly less and pay more, for example for carbon abatement”. A paper about the findings has been published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.

“True cost of tourism”
The complex research took 18 months to complete and incorporates more than a billion supply chains and their impacts on the atmosphere.

“Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism – including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs. It’s a complete lifecycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring we don’t miss any impacts,” claims corresponding author Dr Arunima Malik.

“This research fills a crucial gap identified by the World Tourism Organisation and World Meteorological Organisation to quantify, in a comprehensive manner, the world’s tourism footprint.”

Co-author Dr Ya-Yen Sun, from the University of Queensland and National Cheng Kung University of Taiwan, says a rethink about tourism as ‘low-impact’ is crucial.

“Given that tourism is set to grow faster than many other economic sectors, the international community may consider its inclusion in the future in climate commitments such as the Paris Accord, by tying international flights to specific nations,” she said.

“Carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes – in particular for aviation – may be required to curtail unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions.”

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