Supporting climate action in tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Caribbean and Latin American countries are highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis due to their geography and socio-economic position. Environmental disasters, such as storms and hurricanes, are becoming more frequent, widespread and dangerous in the region due to global temperature rises, as are the indirect impacts of climate change such as biodiversity loss, water shortages, coastal erosion and infrastructure damage. 

Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, is one of the most vulnerable in the world to extreme weather events. It suffers from a high exposure to climate-related hazards and many rural poor communities also depend on the land for livelihoods, increasing the risk of being adversely affected. These communities have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions, yet are affected the most. It’s the same on a wider scale. This region of the world has little responsibility for climate emissions, but it bears the greatest impact, further widening inequality and decreasing resilience.

And where does tourism fit into this? A dependency on tourism can exacerbate issues. The effects of climate change often directly impact the tourism sector by damaging places people want to visit, multiplying the impact on people’s livelihoods. The Caribbean is the most tourism dependent region in the world and so any disruption to the tourism industry because of climate-related events will deeply affect these popular tourist islands. 

Adapting to climate change

Countries have begun grappling with how to adapt to the effects of climate change, looking at how to develop solutions in response to current or future climate impacts. Adaptation takes many forms, should involve many stakeholders and depends on the unique context of a place. It could mean changes in natural or human systems, or changes in processes, practices and structures. Measures could range from building flood defenses,providing early warning systems, developing water conservation education campaigns or coral bleaching response plans, amending government policies or building-code regulations. 

Countries with low GDP such as in Latin America and the Caribbean face significant challenges in adapting to climate change due to their limited resources. Long-term investment in climate resilience and adaptation is also difficult when the funds available have to be used to deal with firefighting increasing climate impacts. Further, climate adaptation in tourism at a destination level is an emerging area, as is knowledge about whether current adaptation measures will cope with future climate impacts. However, the tourism industry can help address the challenges of climate change, by decarbonising emissions and supporting communities that depend on tourism to adapt to climate change.

Climate action in Honduras and the Caribbean

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), an Inter-governmental Organisation dedicated to regional integration in the Eastern Caribbean, recognises that the region is on the frontline of climate change, and has partnered with us to work on sustainable tourism activities, including climate action. The OECS is a signatory of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, and has committed to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero before 2050. We will be working with the OECS to develop and launch their Tourism Climate Action Plan, aligned to the Glasgow Declaration, beginning with a needs assessment to consider national plans and identify gaps and requirements. The agreement involves both tourism and environment officials across the 11 Caribbean nations.

Our CEO, Jeremy Sampson said: “We are hugely motivated by the vision behind this partnership and the opportunities it brings to create meaningful change and global leadership. It represents a significant step towards the implementation of solutions at scale that address the risks posed by climate change and increase the value that tourism brings to communities. We shall support the OECS and its members to put planning into action across the region, and demonstrate that tourism can, and must, adapt to become more resilient and equitable.”

Similarly, in Latin America, we are supporting the Instituto Honduran de Turismo (the Honduras Ministry of Tourism), in collaboration with Sustentur, to build climate action planning capacity within the Ministry of Tourism and more broadly across the destination. This project will particularly focus on climate adaptation, to protect destination communities and livelihoods. We will be running online and in-person workshops for key ministry stakeholders and external representatives, develop an overview of the situation in Honduras, build a Climate Action Task Force, with set goals and priorities and support the Ministry to produce their Climate Action Plan.

This focus on Latin America and the Caribbean is not new for the Travel Foundation. Recently we completed a three year project, Big Up Small Business, working with small and medium tourism businesses in Jamaica.  We have also been involved in looking at how to reduce carbon emissions, as well as water-use and waste from tourism in Saint Lucia (and Mauritius). The four-year project, led by the UN Environment, looked at the entire supply chain for three areas of tourism: accommodation, food/beverages, and events and resulted in the launch of a national action plan to reduce greenhouse gases and improve resource efficiency. And we continue our long-standing partnership with Cuidadores de Destinos, a consulting company for DMOs in Latin America. Cuidadores de Destinos empowers communities in tourism destinations and encourages tourism success to be measured beyond growth KPIs. 

Working with destinations to prepare for decarbonised economies and changing climate impacts, questions about fairness and inequities are never far away. In tourism as with other sectors, some countries, nations and businesses bear greater responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions while others face the most severe impacts, and some destinations will find it easier to adapt and transition than others. So how do we avoid exacerbating existing inequalities which risk leaving certain communities further behind? 

To better understand the role tourism can have in promoting so-called “Climate Justice” opportunities, the Travel Foundation is working with the University of Waterloo alongside CREST, Tourism Cares and Cuidadores de Destinos, with support from Expedia. We will capture a range of views and perspectives, alongside key definitions and lessons from other sectors, into a report which we hope will encourage further discussion and reach some suggestions and recommendations on the actions that businesses and others can take. Please get in touch if you would like to be included in the engagement process.

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