Let’s get real: what a course-correct for Net Zero looks like, and how to make it happen

The goal is clear: by 2050 at the latest, the global travel industry must fully decarbonize. How to achieve that? Is the necessary departure from business as usual realistic? In this keynote speech from ITB Berlin, our CEO Jeremy Sampson outlines the facts and pathways ahead, combining findings from robust academic research with a pragmatic view of the demands of the travel industry. There are some key moments that should be seen in the years ahead if we are to make the seemingly impossible possible. A clear agenda for the travel industry is needed, to pivot away from climate pollution and equitably shape future opportunities. 

Put simply, we must only grow the areas of tourism that are most ready to decarbonise, and stop growing those that are hardest to decarbonise, if we are to have any chance of reaching net zero by 2050. And so it is impossible to talk seriously about decarbonising tourism without addressing the issues around aviation. Aviation is particularly polluting: It was responsible for 55% of ALL tourism’s emissions in 2019. And long-haul flights are particularly polluting. So clearly, any plan for decarbonising travel and tourism needs to grasp this nettle. 

In our recent research Envisioning Tourism in 2030, we looked at scenarios that would result in net zero by 2050, whilst also allowing for growth. Only by combining all of measures and adding a policy of reducing the rate of growth of aviation, keeping total distance travelled by air to about today’s levels, we did get close to net zero by 2050 

Electrification coupled with a shift to renewable or nuclear energy will be the route to net zero for most accommodation and transportation modalities over the coming decades.  Of course, that is a huge task ahead, but with the right policies, industry commitment and investments, it can happen.  

Five milestones to head towards

  • Global emissions accounting that levels the playing field.

Global emissions accounting means bringing international transport emissions within national and business carbon budgets.

  • Offering net zero experiences and itineraries becomes the norm.

Start identifying and providing low and net-zero emissions tourism options at scale.

  • Unprecedented collaborations deliver on-the-ground action at scale.

Collaborations that break traditional formats. That means working cross borders, public and private, private and private (precompetitively), at different levels and with organisations outside your vertical, and outside of tourism.  

  • Tourism unites to bolster our most vulnerable destinations.

Providing more effective support for the most vulnerable destinations – in the shape of new international channels or frameworks that direct resources, particularly of the financial kind – to where they are needed most. 

  • Reducing absolute emissions is an integral part of every business.

It’s time to stop tinkering. No more performative action seeking PR gain while keeping on the same course toward climate disaster.  

Delivering on this transformation requires: 

Leadership – not just from your under-resourced sustainability team but from your c-suite decision makers and boards. 

Capacity – not just training but an enabling environment that promotes tough dialogue and opens up resources that address the very real risks occurring right now to this industry’s reputation and social license to operate. 

Change at scale – taking significant action means doing things differently, understanding and acting on our sphere of influence to prioritize science aloingside other stakeholders and designing the unsustainable options right out of the system 

Let’s get real. We now know what a course-correct for net zero looks like and how to make it happen. The time is now.

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