The air transport and climate change issue should be addressed in the broader context of tourism development, says UNWTO chief
Thu 19 Dec 2013 – Aviation climate change measures are crucial for the long-term development of the tourism sector, said Taleb Rifai (right), Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in a lecture given at ICAO headquarters in Montreal. He said the fight against climate change was perhaps the greatest and most critical challenge for tourism and aviation coordination. Over one billion international tourists travelled the world in 2012, over half of them by air transport and a much higher proportion to long-haul destinations, particularly landlocked and island developing nations that were dependent on air links, he reported. This interdependency, he suggested, called for mitigation measures in the context of the broad tourism spectrum rather than for air transport in isolation.
Combined greenhouse gas emissions from travel and tourism amount to around 5% of global CO2 emissions, of which air transport accounted for an estimated 40%, rising to 60% in the case of international travel and tourism. With a predicted fourfold business-as-usual growth in aviation emissions by 2050, without carbon abatement the sector was facing a conflict with a global emissions trajectory to limit the global temperature increase this century to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, said Rifai.
“However, this should be considered in its proper context,” he said. “Whereas air transport, taken in isolation, is presently unsustainable from an environmental perspective, with a global share of CO2 emissions to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of 2:1, its value lies in delivering economic and social goods and services. If we consider the carbon and GDP impact of the full travel and tourism value chain, including the air transport cluster, then the share of emissions to GDP ratio is closer to 1:1.”
To complement operational, technical and infrastructure improvements, including the availability and use of sustainable and economically viable biofuels, market-based measures (MBMs) such as carbon pricing or emissions trading will be necessary to achieve carbon neutral growth in the aviation sector, he stated.
“Yet these pose important issues for the competitiveness of tourism destinations worldwide if measures are unilateral and affect destinations in diverse manners,” he said. “We thus believe that it is critical to address the issue of climate change and air transport beyond the aviation silo, in the broader context of tourism development.”
He stressed the importance of alleviating the impacts caused by aviation mitigation measures on developing nations, in particular least-developed and island countries, where tourism depended critically on air transport and, in turn, the livelihoods of the people depended on tourism.
Rifai noted the “uphill task” ICAO faced with its work on MBMs and the conflict in the underlying principles of ICAO and UNFCCC, and the “considerable and forceful” negotiations on MBMs at the recent ICAO Assembly that had resulted in a “fragile” resolution to develop a global scheme for international aviation.
A positive aspect, however, had been recognition in the new resolution of many elements of a UNWTO statement presented to ICAO’s 37th Assembly in 2010, he said. “But fundamentally, one that is not is the ‘Assessment of mitigation measures in the context of broad-spectrum tourism’. A global MBM scheme that is optimal for aviation in isolation may well not be optimal for tourism or indeed optimal for aviation and tourism together.”
He added: “The tourism community and UNWTO remain fully committed to providing a tourism perspective to ICAO’s ongoing policy making and the continuing debate on air transport and climate change.”
The first to be invited from outside the aviation industry, Rifai was presenting the 10th Annual Assad Kotaite Lecture, held by the Montreal branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society. His address, ‘Tourism and Aviation: Building Common Policies for Sustainable Growth’, highlighted the interdependent relationship between the two sectors on issues such as market liberalisation, visa facilitation, taxes and consumer protection.