The tourism industry has been growing quickly as international trade and travel has become more accessible than ever before. But now for the first time ever, a new study has calculated the environmental impact of the world’s tourism industry, ranging from flights, accommodations, and the cost of making souvenirs.
The study, conducted by Integrated Sustainability Analysis supply-chain research group at the University of Sydney, marks the first time that the global carbon footprint of tourism and travel has ever been fully calculated taking into account all aspects of the tourism supply chain.
The results show that tourism is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, four times more than what was previously thought.
Tourism’s environmental impact already accounts for one-tenth of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change and estimated the impacts of over one billion tourism supply chains throughout the world in order to measure the total global impact of tourism.
“Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism – including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs – it’s a complete life-cycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring we don’t miss any impacts,” said Arunima Malik, a corresponding author of the study. “This research fills a crucial gap identified by the World Tourism Organization and the World Meteorological Organization to quantify, in a comprehensive manner, the world’s tourism footprint.”
One particular finding of interest was that even though the US is responsible for the majority of emissions from tourism, islands are disproportionately affected by international travel.
Some islands face an increased risk of climate change including sea level rise and coral bleaching due to the fact that they are popular tourist destinations. Air travel is also a major contributor to tourism’s environmental impact.
Tourism is projected to grow at a rate of four percent each year, and the researchers say that emissions from travel need to be taken into account as nations work to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.
“Given that tourism is set to grow faster than many other economic sectors, the international community may consider its inclusion in the future in climate commitments, such as the Paris Accord, by tying international flights to specific nations,” said Ya-Yen Sun, a co-author of the study. “Carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes – in particular for aviation – may be required to curtail unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions.”