By Mark Bibby Jackson, TravelBeginsAt40.com
In 2019, travel and tourism accounted for 10.4% of global GDP, in 2020 this was only 5.5%. In the process some 62 million people lost their jobs. These are quite staggering figures, especially for those countries that are heavily dependent upon tourism, especially international tourism, for their GDP. In the face of this it would be all too easy for the sector to demand a growth at all costs policy to redress the losses of these past months.
However, this is not the case.
A World Travel and Tourism Council report released in last summer states: “There has been growing awareness around climate, environmental and social issues … It is increasingly clear that we should respond with the same urgency and vigour to the climate crisis as we are to COVID-19, not only on ethical grounds, but also because the travellers of tomorrow will demand it.” (The emphasis is theirs not mine).
Various reports have indicated that the pandemic has changed the way that people view travel. For instance, research carried out by Booking.com last year indicated that 73% of Americans feel that sustainable travel is vital. Other reports have indicated a similar attitude on this side of the Atlantic, with 77% of UK citizens saying they would consider the environment when choosing their future travel.
The message is clear. Covid is not the only crisis in town. Any recovery plan should account for the climate crisis, which, if anything, will have greater consequences upon both humankind and the planet than Covid.
More than words
The traveller of the 2020s wants their travel to have less environmental impact than previous generations. Avoiding single-use plastics, opting for towels and bed linen not to be cleaned every day, and turning off the air conditioning are measures that many travellers are familiar with and now implement.
According to Booking.com’s survey most (61%) would choose accommodation that has implemented sustainable practices and would use environmentally-friendly travel options while in their destination (71%). Just over a third (36%) shop at local stores to support the local economy.
Quite simply, travellers want to do the right thing.
Changing the deckchairs on the Titanic
However, implementing green practices while you are on your holiday is a bit like “changing the deckchairs on the Titanic,” according to Professor Geoffrey Lipman, who is promoting the concept of climate friendly travel through the SUNx Malta programme.
The underlying principle of climate friendly travel is that it should be both green and clean.
Global heating or climate change is this great big iceberg that we are sailing right into, and unless we do something about it, the worthy measures you implement whilst on your travels become pretty irrelevant – like changing the deckchairs on the Titanic.
What benefit is there to small island resorts if they implement green, sustainable measures, eliminating the use of single-use plastic, using renewable energy and employing a local workforce, if in 10 to 20 years’ time they are under water due to rising sea levels.
Transport, predominantly flights, is responsible for roughly half of the global tourism industry’s carbon footprint. Aviation contributed 915 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019. This is estimated to be some 3% of global CO2 emissions. Any meaningful attempt to reduce this needs to take into account the carbon impact of how we travel to destinations, as well as what we do once there.
Taking the train
One approach is to take an alternative form of transport, whether it is a train, coach or even cycling, wherever possible.
Opting to take the train to your destination is generally cleaner than flying. This makes sense for travelling within the UK or around Europe but doesn’t get you very far if you are planning a fortnight’s break in the Maldives, or are visiting relatives in New Zealand.
Covid has demonstrated just how many small island states—such as the Maldives, Seychelles and those in the Caribbean—are reliant upon international flights for their economic stability; the same international flights that are contributing to putting them most at risk from climate change. But because they are heavily dependent upon tourism revenue, simply taking these destinations off your holiday bucket list might solve one problem but create another.
Clearly, some destinations need international flights. The question is how to reduce their environmental impact.
This is something that the industry has been working on for a number of years, with a reduction in CO2 emissions per kilometre of just over 50% since 1990. Current aircraft are much cleaner than those of a few decades ago – one of the reasons why upgrading of fleets is so important. But they still are not clean.
Last year Airbus announced plans for the first hydrogen plane. However, these will not take off until 2035 at the earliest, and even then, only on flights up to 2000 miles. There has also been a lot of research into the use of sustainable aviation fuels which can been made from industrial waste, however these fuels are more expensive than conventional aviation fuels.
Recently, Norsk e-Fuel announced the launch of a commercial plant to create hydrogen-based renewable aviation fuel, which should provide 100 million litres of renewable fuel by 2026. This is an encouraging step but would only account for 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions compared with the 68.14 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent generated by the major European airlines in 2019, according to EU Commission data.
Currently, despite this progress, there is no easy technological fix to the problem.
While decisions such as the imposition of carbon taxes on aviation fuel to create a level playing field are ones that have to be made at governmental and inter-governmental levels, there is something that we can all do when booking our next flight – offset.
There is much debate about the relative value of offsetting the carbon footprint of your flight, or holiday. Some accuse it of being a greenwash, but if the reality is that reducing the ‘real’ carbon emissions of our travel is some way off, the next best thing is to reduce the ‘net’ carbon emissions through offsetting.
Of course, there are offsets and offsets.
Under some schemes you might find yourself paying for a tree that someone else has paid for before you. It is far better for your offsets to contribute to a rewilding project that supports the biodiversity of an area rather than to planting trees that might then be cut down after a number of years as part of a forestry project.
If all this sounds too confusing, then the good thing is there is a Gold Standard for carbon offsets. Alternatively, you could also choose to offset your travel with Trees4Travel, which carefully selects which organisations it works with, and charges you £3 per tree as your carbon offset contribution. For instance, if you were to take the train from London to Paris and spend three nights there, you can offset your travel for the cost of one tree, or £3.
Similarly Tomorrow’s Air has partnered with leading carbon-capture company Climeworks, which is also part of the consortium behind the hydrogen-based aviation fuel plant mentioned above, to allow individuals to make a monthly subscription from as low as $10 to help fund carbon capture.
By making your travel both cleaner and greener, not only will you be doing your bit to support local communities and redress climate change, you will also be enriching your own travel experience. Now isn’t that something to build towards after the longest of long winters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Bibby Jackson is passionate about travel and sharing the joys of visiting new places and people. He is founder and group editor of websites Travel Begins at 40 and London Begins at 40, as well as the award-winning author of three thrillers set in Cambodia. He is the former editor of AsiaLIFE Cambodia, ASEAN Forum and Horizon Thailand magazines.
Facebook / Instagram: @TravelBeginsat40