The global tourism industry has a larger carbon footprint than scientists previously thought. According to new research, tourism contributes 8% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers warned that emissions from tourism are on the rise and could grow by 45% over the next seven years due to increased demand for luxury travel.
The review included 160 countries and found that the United States, China and Germany had the highest annual emissions, mostly from domestic travel. Air travel was the largest single contributor to the tourism industry’s emissions and accounted for 12% of the total.
Researchers in Australia, Indonesia and Taiwan published their findings on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Study co-author Dr Arunima Malik, a sustainability expert at the University of Sydney, said the team used three large international databases to trace more than one billion supply chains and their impacts on emissions.
“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 Dr Malik.
Previous estimates from the World Trade Organisation attributed around 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions to tourism; however, this figure, published in 2008, did not include additional emissions from tourists’ purchases and the maintenance of infrastructure.
According to the new study, tourism emitted the equivalent of 3.9 billion tonnes of carbion dioxide in 2009, rising to 4.5 billion tonnes in 2013. If current trends continue, researchers warned the sector will emit 6.5 billion tonnes by 2025, making tourism one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
The study did not attempt to compare the environmental impact of going on holiday with that of staying home, reports Reuters.
Co-author Dr Ya-Yen Sun, from the University of Queensland recommended the trillion-dollar industry be included in future climate commitments such as the Paris Agreement, especially given tourism’s forecasted growth.
“Carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes – in particular for aviation – may be required to curtail unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions,” said Dr Sun.
The researchers offered several suggestions for travellers to help reduce their individual impacts. “We recommend flying less and staying Earth-bound where possible, e.g. use public transport,” Dr Malik told Reuters.
Lead researcher Professor Manfred Lenzen, from the University of Sydney, discussed his own efforts to reduce harm when he travels. “To make my own travel more sustainable – for future generations – I invest in long-run abatement options at prices that incorporate at least average abatement costs, like investing in afforestation, rather than assuming only low-hanging fruit, like residential power efficiency,” he told The Independent.
Patricia Espinosa, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, recently told a news conference that the tourism industry was making “good progress” to reduce its impact on the environment, according to Reuters. “A lot of what the industry is selling depends on the preservation and conservation and the protection of the environment,” she said.