Once in a lifetime chance for green growth and travel

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Life's a beach. [Shutterstock]

The travel and tourism sector is a major contributor to GDP development. However, the impact of the industry in terms of carbon, resource utilisation and “people congestion” have not been effectively measured, writes Professor Geoffrey Lipman.

Professor Geoffrey Lipman is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on New Models of Tourism.

2015 is a landmark in the multi-decade journey for a sustainable future. The second half of this year will have seen 3 interrelated Heads of State Summits, on Development Finance in Addis in July, on Sustainability Goals in New York in September, and on Carbon Targets in Paris, in December.

Together, they will establish the new norm that collaboratively prevents future generations from freezing or frying — balancing the benefits and impacts of human development —  economic, social and environmental — with Climate Change as the universal existential challenge. Ultimately, we all have to get to the same end point by 2050 — the date, where science and politics are converging on liveable global temperature stabilisation.

To achieve this, we will need to embrace Green Growth. ‘Growth’ to raise people from poverty and provide new jobs for a rapidly expanding global population. “Green” to incorporate technology enabled, low carbon renewable energy, with strong social inclusion, smart basic resource use and increased focus on nature conservation.

The travel and tourism sector is a key element in this better future. Not just International but also the much larger domestic flows. Not just transport, hospitality and travel services but also the essential soft and hard infrastructure that underpins it ? superhighways, fast trains, mega airports, border control and customs officials and the like.

This “Travelism Ecosystem” is a major contributor to GDP, jobs, consumption, investment, trade, development and local livelihoods. It is forecast to increase annually ahead of GDP, globally, regionally and nationally. At the same time, however, the impact of the industry in terms of carbon (transport / buildings), resource utilisation (water / food/ waste) and “people congestion” have not been effectively measured nor coherently managed. And there are no comparable figures for the green impacts.

Concrete action is urgently needed for meaningful change. First, bringing travelism and environmental metrics together into a single balance sheet to show impacts with benefits. Second, delivering coherent Green Growth transformation solutions to the local level, which is where the sustainability rubber hits the road. Third, factoring this into educational systems which simply don’t reflect the new imperatives.

We are building the SUN Program to help achieve this. To establish an interactive international green growth network which will practically increase the capacity of travelism to deliver on climate resilience and sustainability at the local community level. A network of prefabricated solar powered monitoring and learning centres will use a cloud based platform to link research on innovation, renewables, big data and the like into community led resilience programmes, targeted on Green Growth and Climate Resilience. The first SUN Centre will be launched in Limburg in Belgium, at the time of the Paris COP21 Climate Summit.

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