The World Travel & Tourism Council says it has new research shows that in 2019 the travel and tourism sector was responsible for 8.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's down from previous estimates, which said the sector contributed up to 11% of emissions, according to the WTTC.
Julia Simpson, president and CEO of WTTC, says: “Greenhouse gas emissions per dollar generated are going down,” but adds that the industry still needs to “aggressively decarbonize.”
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Simpson made the remarks during her opening speech Tuesday at the WTTC’s 22nd Global Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She also announced the launch of Environmental and Social Research by WTTC and the Saudi Arabia-based Sustainable Global Tourism Center. The research looks at 185 countries and assesses pollutants, energy sources and water use, as well as social data, including age, wage and gender profiles.
“Until now, it’s not been possible to quantify the actual impact that we are having on the climate,” Simpson says, adding that the sector simply “did not have the data.”
Simpson calls the Environmental and Social Research a “groundbreaking piece of research that allows us to measure and track our sector’s footprint. We can compare where are we are today to where we were 10 years ago.”
Between 2010 and 2019, the sector’s gross domestic product has grown on average 4.3% annually while its climate footprint increased by just 2.4%, according to the findings.
The Environmental and Social Research will provide targets for governments, which must “set the framework” for industry, Simpson says. The findings indicate the top three industry priorities need to be: switching from electricity to renewables; increasing production of sustainable aviation fuels; and having courage.
Travel companies are “on
the front lines” of the “existential” environmental crisis, says Simpson,
noting that nature-based tourism generates over $600 billion that is invested
back into many undeveloped countries.
WTTC says it will continue to announce new data throughout 2023.
Saudi Arabia's minister of Tourism, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, adds: “We are proud to be a partner to the WTTC in this important research that will monitor impact for the future. Saudi Arabia recognizes that travelers and investors want policies that promote sustainability in the industry, and we have embarked on a journey that will make the Kingdom a pioneer in sustainable tourism.
“Under the Saudi Green Initiative, we launched more than 60 initiatives in the past year to do just that,” Al-Khateeb says. “The first wave of initiatives represent more than $186 billion of investment in the green economy.”
Members WTTC include 200 CEOs, chairs and presidents of travel and tourism companies.
WTTC and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance signed a memorandum of understanding in October, committing them to join forces to help the hospitality industry reduce its environmental impact.
In June, WTTC released a report that identifies five categories where destinations should focus their efforts to build both resilience and long-term sustainability: environment, infrastructure, energy, economy and society.