Cambridge reports highlight the dangers to tourism and air transport sectors through climate change impacts
Fri 11 July 2014 – The tourism industry is likely to be severely impacted by climate change, which will also have important consequences for the air transport sector, and both will come under growing pressure to reduce their significant carbon footprint. The warning is highlighted in a new report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), which summarises the latest findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The tourism industry accounts for between 3.9 and 6 per cent of human contributions to GHG emissions but on current trends this will rise to 10 per cent by 2025. Air transport accounted for 43 per cent of the total emissions from tourism in 2005 but just 17 per cent of number of trips taken. Another recent Cambridge study found global aviation emissions could be cut by a third by 2050 through using a carbon tax to replace older aircraft with new models.
The CISL report, carried out in association with the Cambridge Judge Business School and the European Climate Foundation, is one of a series distilling the most pertinent findings of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) for specific economic and business sectors. “This is an extremely important and valuable summary of the IPCC findings for the tourism industry,” commented Stephen Farrant, Director of the International Tourism Partnership, a part of Business in the Community. “Every part of the industry needs to take note of its warnings and think about what more can be done to adapt to climate change, as well as how to continue the process of reducing the impact of their operations on the environment.”
Climate change will see changes to tourism and travel patterns, says the report, with threats posed to some ski resorts by rising temperatures and shorter winters, and to coastal tourism – the largest component of the global tourism industry – as a result of rising sea levels and coral reef degradation. An increase of one metre in sea level, for example, would damage up to 60% of resort properties in the Caribbean, destroy or damage 21 airports and inundate land around 35 ports. The world’s coral reefs contribute $11.5 billion annually to global tourism revenues.
Another negative impact is the changes to biodiversity on ecotourism, where, for example, sub-Saharan Africa could see 40% of species in national parks become endangered by 2080.
In addition to these direct impacts, the tourism industry will suffer indirectly from increased scarcity of clean water, a higher prevalence of disease, and reduced security and higher social unrest in poor countries as a result of climate change. While a changing climate may lead to some new tourism opportunities, such as ‘last chance’ visits to see melting glaciers, these will by definition be short-lived.
The tourism industry is one of the world’s largest, providing livelihoods to more than 255 million people worldwide, as well as accounting for some 9% of global GDP and more than $6 trillion in revenue each year. The sector is particularly important for some of the world’s poorest countries, especially some Small Island States.
While it accounts for a lower percentage of global emissions than its percentage contribution to global GDP, tourism is in parts an energy-intensive industry, with its customers often travelling long distances by ship or aircraft. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the sector’s emissions are forecast to grow by 130% between 2005 and 2035, with emissions from air travel and accommodation projected to triple. While the built environment accounts for around 20% of tourism’s climate impact, transport makes up 75%. With air travel accounting for 43% of the total overall emissions of the sector and cruises also having high associated emissions, reductions in emissions from tourism will depend to a large degree on improvements in efficiency made within the transport sector.
Here, the report finds progress is being made, with new aircraft typically offering a 20-30% improvement in fuel efficiency over existing models. It says further gains of 40-50% between 2030 and 2050 are possible, compared with 2005 levels, and the adoption of alternative fuels could offer GHG emission reductions of 30-90%.
However, emissions reductions from improvements in fuel efficiency and technological fixes are likely to be offset by the growth in tourism.
If governments enact policies to curb climate change in line with the 2 degree C target, the pressure to mitigate emissions from travel and tourism will become all the more acute, says the report. Strong policy measures are likely to be necessary, especially to change passenger transport behaviour, where a large price signal is needed, it suggests.
A study prepared for climate policy organisation Climate Strategies last year by researchers from Cambridge University concluded that carbon taxes, offsets and other market-based measures (MBMs) could effectively address the impact of CO2 emissions from the aviation and shipping industries without significant financial impact to the world’s poorest countries if implemented wisely.
The study quantified the economic impacts of MBMs for 10 countries from the developing world, selected because they would expect to be impacted more significantly by the implementation of global MBMs – either due to their dependence on tourism and trade by sea and air or their remote location. The researchers found that for most of these countries the economic effects were more pronounced but could be minimised through, for example, exemptions for certain routes, lump sum rebates, investments in infrastructure efficiency and the development of more efficient ships and aircraft. They said that while there are numerous challenges associated with their implementation, MBMs could provide an important source of finance, especially for developing countries, to support climate change mitigation projects and programmes.
“On the one hand, there could be an exemption for poor, small island nations that are heavily reliant on tourism. However, on the other hand, if it’s a small island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, adding a $50 carbon tax is not a make or break amount for a tourist who is already paying $1500 for their long-haul flight, and that $50 could go towards developing climate solutions,” said Dr Annela Anger-Kraavi, who led the study while a member of the University’s Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, and is now at the University of East Anglia.
Yet another Cambridge University study, recently published in the journal Transport Policy, has assessed the potential impact of a policy to use the revenues of a global carbon tax to subsidise the replacement of older aircraft through a ‘scrappage’ scheme. It found that such a policy could reduce aviation emissions by up to a third by 2050, relative to a business-as-usual scenario. A separate study found that global aviation emissions could be cut immediately by around 10% if every existing plane could be replaced with an up-to-date model.
“Neither scenario is realistic in practice – this is certainly not a policy recommendation,” said Dr Lynette Dray of Cambridge University’s Institute for Aviation and the Environment, who led the study. “But it’s a useful exercise in demonstrating the effect that ageing technology is having on aviation emissions, which, over the last 30 to 40 years have grown at a rate of about two and a half per cent per year.
“Part of the reason why it’s so difficult to curb aviation emissions is the long lifetime of planes. They’re designed to keep going for 30 or more years, so the feed-through of new, cleaner technology is a relatively slow process.”
Dray and her team are now focusing their research on the effects of making some low-cost modifications to existing planes to reduce their emissions. These include installing lightweight cabins and seats, and retrofitting aircraft with winglets to improve their aerodynamic performance.
In its latest market outlook published yesterday, Boeing forecasts demand for 36,770 new aircraft valued at $5.2 trillion during the next 20 years, over a third of which will come from the Asia-Pacific region.