Tourism’s growing contribution to GHG emissions

GHG emmissions caused by the tourism sector could increase by 30% by 2025. [Shutterstock]

According to an international study, the tourism sector accounts for 8% of all anthropogenic emissions of CO2, and its carbon footprint could increase significantly due to a lack of regulations. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’environnement reports.

With low-cost flights and long distance holidays at discounted prices, tourism has become an activity responsible for a high level of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), a trend which will continue to increase in the coming years if the demand for tourism continues to grow.

This is not the first time the carbon footprint of tourism is evaluated. In 2007, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimated the volume of carbon dioxide emissions caused by tourism to be 5% of the global carbon footprint, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.

Carbon emissions only

Manfred Lenzen, a physicist from the University of Sydney and one of the authors of the study, believes the evaluation of the previous study to be undervalued as it only took into account the carbon emissions from land and air transport, leaving aside the release of methane (linked to the consumption of meat) and refrigerants (CFCs and HFCs).

All emissions

In the report, published in Nature Climate Change on 7 May, the Australian researcher and his colleagues calculated the emission caused by the billions of tourist who took the plane, train or boat, but also the GHG emissions due to where they stayed (air conditioning or heating), what they ate (livestock keepers who contribute to deforestation) and the purchases made during their holiday.

New round of climate negotiations in Bonn

The Bonn Climate Change Conference is meeting from 30 April to 10 May in preparation for COP24 in Katowice (Poland). During the Bonn Conference, the two key subjects will be: increasing countries’ climate ambitions and actions and drafting the operating manual for the Paris Agreement. EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’Environnement reports.

High GWP

Therefore, the authors worked on a more comprehensive data set then the UNWTO by focusing on methane emissions (from the meat industry), nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture, and synthetic gas from air conditioning systems, all gases with a high global warming potential (GWP).

One tonne of hydrofluorocarbon – 23 (HFC-23, a refrigerant) has the same effect on climate as 14,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Domestic flights

As a result, 4.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year (GtCO2e/year) was released because of tourism in 2013 (compared to 3.9 GtCO2e/year in 2009), 8% of anthropogenic emissions.

According to the study, Americans contribute the most to emissions caused by tourism with 23%, ahead of the Chinese (11%), the Germans (6%) and the Indians (5.9%).

“Most of the carbon footprints come from domestic flights,” the authors stated.

Islands at risk

Tourists from Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway pollute more on holidays abroad rather than at home. The study also found that emissions produced by tourists significantly increase the carbon footprint of some faraway countries.

In Mauritius or the Seychelles, tourism accounts for 30% to 80% of national GHG emissions, a worrying fact for these islands which heavily rely on tourism for development but which are also likely to be the first affected by rising sea levels.

Tourism – an ever-growing industry

Another concern is the dynamism of tourism, in recent years the global turnover of the sector increased by 4% every year, a pace that will not slow down before 2025, according to experts.

Without regulation (such as the carbon tax), activities linked to tourism and the sector’s carbon footprint could increase by 30% in seven years.

EU proposes 25% ‘climate quota’ in new long-term budget

The clean energy transition and other initiatives to decarbonise Europe’s economy will represent 25% of EU spending under a seven-year EU budget plan put forward by the European Commission on Wednesday (2 May).


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