Developing a climate action plan can benefit tourism organisations and destinations in many ways. A climate action plan can help to reduce emissions, save costs, enhance reputation, attract more customers, comply with regulations, and contribute to the global efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. It can also help organisations adapt to the changing climate, increase resilience, protect assets and resources and provide a new way to engage with stakeholders to raise awareness and education on climate change and sustainability. So how to get started?
The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism
The Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism is a UNWTO-led initiative (which the Travel Foundation co-authored) leading, aligning and accelerating climate action across the tourism industry. Signatories pledge to support the global goals to halve emissions from tourism by 2030 and reach net zero as soon as possible before 2050, and must deliver and report on a climate action plan which details how decarbonisation will happen. At the end of 2023 857 organisations had signed up. The Declaration has five pathways for climate action; Measure, Decarbonise, Regenerate, Collaborate and Finance. By following the five pathways of the Declaration, destinations can not only reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts, but also enhance their competitiveness, resilience and attractiveness. UNWTO have published a report on recommended actions. Also, look out for the launch of our online training course for destinations later this year, developed with Expedia Group, which sets out how to get started on climate action. Now is the time to take action!
The five pathways of the Glasgow Declaration
Measure and disclose all travel and tourism-related emissions. Ensure methodologies and tools are aligned to UNFCCC-relevant guidelines on measurement, reporting and verification, and that they are transparent and accessible.
Why measure? Accurate data helps organisations understand their impact. Knowing where the most emissions are generated helps with the decision making process of how to decarbonise. Measurement also provides transparency and can save costs. Carbon emission measurement covers Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned / controlled sources), Scope 2 (indirect emissions from purchased energy) and Scope 3 (indirect emissions produced in the value chain). Scope 3 emissions are the hardest to measure as they cover emissions which are outside of the control of the organisation doing the measuring. However, Scope 3 emissions also form the bulk of emissions (over 75% of the total for those who managed to measure Scope 3 emissions according to UNWTO’s Glasgow Declaration Implementation Report) so they are important to include. UNWTO provide a helpful overview of methodologies and tools used to measure carbon emissions.
Though a destination management organisation (DMO) cannot measure carbon emissions across all the businesses operating in a destination, it can advocate for measurement infrastructure at a regional level, provide tools and frameworks to support tourism stakeholders to measure emissions and it can also use proxy measurements to generally assess what total carbon emissions a destination has. For example, Visit Finland has created a tool to assist members to track their carbon emissions through their national sustainable tourism programme, “Sustainable Travel Finland”, VisitScotland is in the process of developing a carbon calculator for its national sector, which will be freely accessible to all, and will also provide supporting guides for nine distinct types of private sector stakeholders and Valencia has become the first city in the world to verify and certify its tourism carbon footprint.
Set and deliver targets aligned with climate science to accelerate tourism’s decarbonisation. This includes transport, infrastructure, accommodation, activities, food & drink, and waste management. While offsetting may have a subsidiary role, it must be complementary to real reductions.
The second pathway is to decarbonise tourism operations and supply chains such as by switching to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency or practices, procuring only from responsible supply chain partners, adopting low-carbon transport modes, product service changes, new technology and equipment, behaviour change and/or reducing food waste.
For example, Wilderness Safaris, a luxury ecotourism company that operates in seven African countries, has taken significant steps across its operations. The company has invested in renewable energy systems, such as solar panels and batteries, to power its camps and lodges, reducing its reliance on diesel generators.
At a destination level, VisitScotland is now providing advice on how tourism businesses can reduce emissions, launching a campaign for the use of local food producers and suppliers to support the local economy and reduce food miles, as well as working across agencies to encourage visitors to use public transport. It has also formed a strategic partnership with Zero Waste Scotland to look at more efficient ways of managing energy and waste from different types of tourism businesses and events.
Restore and protect ecosystems, supporting nature’s ability to draw down carbon, as well as safeguarding biodiversity, food security, and water supply. As much of tourism is based in regions most immediately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, ensure the sector can support affected and at-risk communities in resilience building, adaptation and disaster response. Help visitors and host communities experience better balance with nature.
The third pathway is to regenerate natural and cultural assets that are essential for tourism, such as biodiversity, ecosystems, heritage and local communities. Regeneration can include supporting nature-based solutions, protecting or restoring ecosystems, enhancing a destination and supporting climate adaptation.
For example, the Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI), an award-winning programme run by Six Senses Laamu, works to protect the local marine seagrass which is vital for coral reef health, shoreline protection and helps to fight climate change through carbon sequestration. In Tanzania, Chumbe Island Coral Park, a private nature reserve and eco-lodge protects and manages a coral reef sanctuary, a forest reserve and a historical lighthouse. The park also supports environmental education and research, and provides livelihood opportunities for local communities through ecotourism and conservation activities. For more examples, WTTC has released a useful toolbox of nature positive tourism resources which contains inspiring and innovative ideas as has UNWTO.
Share evidence of risks and solutions with all stakeholders and our guests, and work together to ensure our plans are as effective and co-ordinated as possible. Strengthen governance and capacity for action at all levels, including national and sub-national authorities, civil society, large companies and SMEs, vulnerable groups, local communities and visitors.
The fourth pathway is to collaborate with other tourism stakeholders, such as governments, NGOs, academia and consumers, to share best practices, solutions and information, and to advocate for climate action. Forms of collaboration include exploring collective/bulk procurement opportunities, creating local partnerships, idea exchange, working with suppliers or considering impacts in vulnerable community groups. DMOs are ideally placed here to influence and inspire stakeholders. They can help accelerate climate action in tourism, coordinating action and collating measurement, and can provide guidance, best practice examples, tools and networking opportunities to help small tourism businesses decarbonise and drive change. They are also in a great position to bring together different stakeholders to solve place-specific climate challenges, such as how to scale up electric transportation.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the regional tourism organisation of the Caribbean, launched a Caribbean Climate Smart Tourism Initiative, which aims to enhance the resilience and sustainability of the tourism sector in the face of climate change. The initiative involves various activities, such as developing a regional climate action plan, providing training and capacity building, facilitating access to finance and technology, and promoting best practices and innovation. NECSTouR representing European regions, supports its members working on reducing emissions through an online knowledge hub. And The Long Run, a membership body for nature-based tourism businesses, organises regular webinars to help members understand and take action on topics such as energy management, waste reduction and Scope 3 emissions calculation.
Ensure organisational resources and capacity are sufficient to meet objectives set out in climate plans, including the financing of training, research and implementation of effective fiscal and policy tools where appropriate to accelerate transition.
The fifth and final pathway is to finance climate action in tourism by mobilising public and private funds, accessing green finance mechanisms and creating incentives for low-carbon investments. For success in financing climate action, businesses should ensure resources will be sufficient to deliver planned initiatives, identify funding sources and revenue streams, work with others to maximise finances and advocate for/support development of fiscal mechanisms to accelerate transition.
For example, Soneva Fushi partnered with a solar company, through a power purchase agreement, to build a solar plant on their resort. They are now expanding this through loan financing and have started up an innovative ‘waste to wealth’ project, which sees 95% of glass recycled and made into art which is then sold. The Tourism Organization of the Canary Islands is investing 2 million euros to develop a programme supporting regeneration projects across the islands, and Fáilte Ireland has already launched a Green Finance Scheme, which provides loans of up to €500,000 to tourism businesses that want to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The scheme also offers free energy audits, technical support and guidance to help tourism businesses identify and implement green solutions.
Climate action plan examples