Can we save the climate for the price of a croissant?

Can we save the climate for the price of a croissant?

This morning I asked my browser a simple question: “What costs $11?” I did this because a new study has just been released that claims that “the damaging effects of CO2 emissions from tourism could eventually be eliminated if travellers paid just US$11 per trip.

More on the study in a second, but first, what answers did I turn up? There wasn’t much on the first page of results for $11 – a salad in New York City and a month’s subscription to the Showtime streaming service. But there were several things costing $11 billion.

This is interesting, because this year the UNWTO launched its 1 billion tourists, 1 billion opportunities campaign to mark the arrival of the 1 billionth international tourist. Combine 1 billion tourists with an $11 climate bill each and, needless to say, you’ve got $11 billion. (NB: this obviously is not how the researchers from the University of Waterloo do their analysis. I’m just trying to make a point).

Apparently $11 billion is what VW’s emissions scandal is going to cost the company. It was also the cost of the damage caused by Cyclone Hudhud across multiple Indian states last year. And it’s what the United States’ four largest airlines saved due to reduced fuel costs in the first nine months of 2015.

Set against these three figures – all of which also come with their own considerable climate costs – charging every traveller an extra $11 really doesn’t seem that steep a price to pay.

“A dangerously warming world is not in the best interest of global tourism,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Daniel Scott, from the University of Waterloo. “Many of peoples’ favourite tourism destinations and activities are at risk to climate change, from the ski industry to tropical beaches, from iconic species to cultural heritage. So investing in low-carbon tourism is really in the interests of both the tourism industry and travellers alike.”

Decarbonising global tourism may represent a long-term investment, argues Scott, but given the industry’s continued and predicted growth, the relative cost is less than 0.1 per cent of the estimated global tourism economy in 2020 and increases to 3.6 per cent in 2050.

“The tourism sector has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions 50 percent by 2035,“ said Scott. ”Our study demonstrates this is achievable, but will require determined action and significant investment – starting at just under US$1 billion annually [in the] 2020s.”

Like me, the researchers also looked around to see what $11 might buy the typical tourist. They suggested fish & chips in England, a reserved beach umbrella in Spain, or a croissant and coffee in France. None of which seems that great a price to pay for a clean climate. Or as Scott puts it: “We have to ask ourselves, are we willing to pay less than the price of an extra checked bag to ensure future generations can marvel at the sights that inspire us today?”

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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