By Professor Geoffrey Lipman, President SUNX Malta

Net Zero 2050 is the key issue for green tourism. It’s the COP 26 promoted target in its Race to Zero campaign. 

Travel & Tourism, as one of the planet’s biggest industries, has a seat at the table, recognizing the existential realities of the climate crisis and positioning with mainstream global government and industry strategies.

Nearly 300 Airlines in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) agreed Net Zero 2050 at their recent annual meeting and the world’s airports have already been signed on for more than a year.

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) representing some 200 hospitality, transport and tour corporations has a Net Zero Roadmap. And members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) are betting on net zero carbon 2050 – versus the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) goal of 50% absolute emission reduction by 2050.

Importantly, it’s also the central message in the Glasgow Declaration that United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Tourism Declares, the Future of Tourism and others are championing at the COP.

The signatories to the Glasgow Declaration are “committing to act now and accelerate climate action to cut global tourism emissions by at least a half over the next decade and reach Net Zero emissions as soon as possible before 2050. In particular, each signatory will commit to deliver a concrete climate action plan, or updated plan, within 12 months of signing. Plans will be aligned with the proposed pathways of measurement, decarbonisation, regeneration, collaboration & financing to accelerate tourism’s ability to transform.

At SUNx Malta we have also committed to being an early signatory of the Declaration. And while this document is a good first step, we believe we all now need to go further and faster. Net zero is not enough and 2050 is not soon enough.

As an industry, Travel and Tourism needs to make the Glasgow Net Zero target 2030 not 2050 and show real commitment to get on the diet now and to stick to it.

Yes, it makes sense to run with the ‘net’ adaptation scenario for a full decade. This gives time for genuine adjustment and the tough actions it will take. But we really do need to make serious emission reductions right now, which means meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Anything else is a COP out. How we, as an industry, meet these targets needs to be transparent and we need to build in a carbon dioxide end date now.

We should simply commit to stop polluting and destroying life on the planet. We must cut our greenhouse gas emissions right now. And keep cutting them.  Carbon is about 75% of total greenhouse gases and the other 25% is the even more potent, global warming compounds of sulphur, nitrogen, methane etc.

The travel industry needs to DASH-2-Zero not just race there. The science supports this, extreme weather-related disasters illustrate this, and our youth, whose future we are talking about, is screaming at us to take action.

Reliable science from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and peer level research says that current aggregated 2030 carbon reduction ambitions of all UN States will give ‘a 16% increase in global carbon output rather than the 50% reduction by 2030 that the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees requires.’ It also says we are on track for a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in this decade and closer to 3 degrees Celsius by the second half of the century. This increase will make life on earth decidedly questionable as food, water and biodiversity systems are destroyed. Leading experts say we need tough near-term peak targets and rapid emissions reductions over 5-10 years to meet the Paris 1.5 degrees goal by 2050

It is clear we are also suffering serious, weather-related disasters: the floods in Europe and North America; forest fires in California, Canada, Australia, and Siberia; melting ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica; hurricanes in the Caribbean; typhoons in the South China Sea; droughts in Africa; and climate refugees everywhere. These tragedies increase in number and intensity year by year. And all are brought on by our changing climate.

Finally, our youth is screaming at us. They are the ones who will have to ‘clean up our mess’ to quote Greta Thunberg. A recent report in Science stated ‘If the planet continues to warm on its current trajectory, today’s average 6-year-old will see twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960’. Let that sink in as you look at your kids.

It may sound like a huge, perhaps even impossible, challenge. But it is absolutely achievable if we have the will – and we take the necessary actions.

For example, at SUNx Malta we try to ‘walk the walk, not just talk the talk’. We work with travel and tourism companies to help them transition to the new climate economy by putting protecting our climate at the heart of tourism activities. This can be done in a number of ways:

  1. We established a goal of Climate Friendly Travel with a ten-year implementation strategy. This means travel that is low carbon, linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, and meets the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  2. We built a Registry for transparency, linked to the UN Climate Action Portal, and led by an experienced environmental scientist. We are making it easily available to all tourism stakeholders who sign the Glasgow Declaration. The Registry enables companies to share their goals and their progress, highlighting their commitment to Climate Friendly Travel.
  3. We created a Support Network to share current best practice in areas like climate resilience and emission reduction. This includes giving members access to wide ranging research and helpful delivery tools.
  4. We launched eXist and travel for online visibility and public buy in.
  5. We are building the Strong Climate Champions Youth Community to provide virtual intern assistance to registered companies and communities. These young people will be the climate friendly travel champions of the industry’s future.

These tools are available to other travel and tourism companies, and we should all share our knowledge with the aim of creating a robust, planet-friendly industry.

By setting a goal three decades into the future isn’t creating a solution because it is designed to keep the polluting practices in place as long as we can get away with it. Nice Corporate Social Responsibility statements, ‘sustainability’ speeches and media events don’t cut ice in real time. And regulators, investors and the young market of the future are ultimately hard-nosed. 

Maurice Strong, a climate and sustainability trailblazer, was the inspiration for SUNx. He used to quote the Innuit proverb “We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children”. We share his view that we can’t keep trying to ‘get away with it’ in the context of climate change. It is imperative to Dash-2-Zero.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Professor Geoffrey Lipman is President of SUNx Malta, former Executive Director IATA, first President WTTC and ex Assistant Secretary General UNWTO. He is the 2021 recipient of the Annual CREST Martha Honey Award for responsible tourism leadership.

SUNx Malta (Strong Universal Network) is a legacy initiative for the late Maurice Strong Climate & Sustainability trailblazer half a century ago. it is an EU NGO partnered with Malta’s Ministry of Tourism and Consumer Protection and it’s Tourism Authority advocating “Climate Friendly Travel – low carbon: SDG linked: Paris 1.5.

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