Decarbonisation and the Travel and Tourism Industry

Decarbonisation and the Travel and Tourism Industry

In 2018 there has been very little discussion in the Responsible Tourism programme across WTM’s portfolio of trade shows in Cape Town, Dubai, London, Sao Paulo about the decarbonisation of the sector.

This was because we have seen very few significant examples which might be used to educate, inform and challenge colleagues to do more.

Back in 2015, we invited Kevin Anderson to open World Responsible Tourism Day in London. We know the consequences and we know the science. The problem is cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy. It is time to act.

There been insufficient progress over the last few years – we are looking for practical business and destination solutions which we can share and use to reduce the rate of climate change and stave off the crisis.

The travel and tourism sector continues to benefit from relatively high levels of demand growth as new source markets (China, India, Indonesia, and Russia) have a high prosperity to consume domestic and international travel. The rapid increase in tourism demand is outstripping the benefits of the relatively slow introduction of decarbonisation in the sector. With high rates of growth, the sector will become a more and more significant as polluters come under increasing pressure from regulators applying the polluter pays principle.

The business case for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all parts of the sector has never been stronger and public awareness of the issue and its consequences is rising. Climate change is happening now with wildfires, heat waves, flooding, sea level rise and extreme weather events. The most recent IPCC report reminds us that human activities have caused a 1°C increase on pre-industrial levels. Recently emissions have begun to rise again and the IPCC is now forecasting, with a high degree of confidence, that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. Life will become increasingly unpleasant and dangerous for millions of us unless we take action.

The business case for taking action now to reduce your carbon emissions and to increase your business resilience has never been stronger.

At all four shows in 2019 we are placing climate change and decarbonisation at the heart of our Responsible Tourism programme. We are looking to showcase examples from the industry of initiatives which have reduced the greenhouse gas pollution caused by travel and tourism activities.

We know the scale of the problem – we are looking for solutions. What are the solutions which make business sense? Can you inspire others with your solution to reducing the carbon embedded in our sector?

If you have an initiative you would like to share or would like to speak about on a panel at one of the shows in 2109 please contact

The latest academic research reports that between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonisation of tourism-related technology. We project that, due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Nature Climate Change Volume 8, pages 522–528 (2018)

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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