Can the tourism industry reach Net-Zero?
A report released in November last year by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Program and Accenture, highlighted some of the challenges facing the global industry. tourism in terms of decarbonization.
In 2019, the sector experienced its 10th consecutive year of growth; with 1.47 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide, it contributed more than 10% of global GDP and accounted for one in 10 jobs.
However, the industry was also responsible for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
For a series of countries – many of which are developing economies – tourism was the main source of income before the pandemic. In this sense, the border closures and lockdowns of the past two years have been particularly deleterious, and many of these countries are understandably keen to restart their tourism industries as soon as possible.
However, some industry bodies argue that a hasty return to “business as normal” would ultimately prove damaging and unsustainable. Instead, industry must commit to net zero emissions and adopt a more environmentally friendly mindset.
One of the leading voices in this regard is the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre, a new multinational coalition that aims to accelerate the tourism sector‘s transition to net zero emissions.
Launched in Saudi Arabia in October 2021, the countries invited to join the first phase of the coalition are the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Kenya, Jamaica, Morocco, l Spain and Saudi Arabia.
Harvard University will support the initiative through research and capacity building, while the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will help it accelerate industry action.
The coalition has ambitious goals to achieve. Of the 250 companies analyzed in the WTTC report, 42% had defined a climate objective, of which 20% aligned with the orientations of the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi).
As OBG has explored, the SBTi is a global body that provides businesses with a defined framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The importance of science-based goals is that they are universal, making it harder for companies to misjudge or misrepresent their sustainability performance.
In addition, the WTTC report observes that currently the tourism industry applies a range of approaches to target metrics, target dates, baselines and emission reduction commitments, making comparability difficult.
Nevertheless, a series of individual institutions and multilateral initiatives are paving the way for the decarbonization of industry. As the hospitality and travel segments of the industry are responsible for the lion’s share of its emissions, they are targeted for urgent reform.
Various resorts and hotels have already taken significant steps towards decarbonization.
In 2018, Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba became the first resort in the Caribbean – and one of the first in the world – to become carbon neutral.
Other stations have followed suit.
In Thailand, the Santiburi resort in Koh Samui was certified carbon neutral in 2019 by the Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organization and VGreen.
At the other end of the spectrum, the ski resort of Ischgl in the Austrian Alps in 2020 obtained a climate-neutral certificate from climate action solutions provider ClimatePartner.
Going forward, it is expected that resort projects will put carbon neutrality at the forefront.
A good example is Saudi Arabia’s flagship tourism project in the Red Sea, which last year secured $3.8 billion through the first-ever riyal-denominated green finance credit facility.
The project is built on a 28,000 km² site; When fully operational in 2030, it will include 50 hotels, a luxury marina and a range of entertainment and leisure facilities. The site’s entire transportation network, including a new airport, will be powered by renewable energy.
In recognition of its commitment to sustainability, at the end of 2021, the Red Sea Tourism Project was named ESG Initiative of the Year by the Chartered Governance Institute UK and Ireland.
Meanwhile, at the individual hotel level, December 2021 saw the opening of what is believed to be the world’s first net zero hotel.
Run by the Room2 hotel brand in London’s Chiswick, the hotel has 86 rooms powered by solar panels and geothermal heat pumps, along with many other eco-friendly features.
Airlines moving to net zero
When it comes to air travel, a series of initiatives are underway to help the industry move to net zero.
In 2016, the UN launched its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Program for International Aviation (CORSIA).
The program aims to give carriers the means to purchase emission reduction offsets from other sectors, thereby offsetting any increase in their own emissions.
The pilot phase of CORSIA was launched on January 1, 2021, with the participation of 88 States. Its first voluntary phase begins in 2024, followed in 2027 by a second mandatory phase.
The International Air Transport Association’s Aviation Carbon Exchange (ACE) was also launched early last year.
ACE is a centralized marketplace for CORSIA-compliant emission units, allowing airlines and other aviation stakeholders to trade carbon emission reductions.
At the end of 2021, Qatar Airlines became the first carrier in the world to complete a transaction on ACE.
Indeed, Gulf airlines are at the forefront of industry efforts to become carbon neutral.
At the 54th Annual General Meeting of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO) – held in Doha in November last year – a resolution was signed to reach net zero by 2050. Based in Lebanon, the AACO counts among its members 32 airlines based in 19 countries.
In this, the AACO has followed the lead of the EU aviation industry, which in February last year unveiled a carbon neutral roadmap.
“Destination 2050 – A Route to Net Zero European Aviation” explains how to reduce carbon emissions from all flights in and out of the EU by 45% by 2030, before reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
It remains to be seen when other comparable bodies will follow.
By Oxford Business Group
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