A new report will call for a cap on long-haul travel to 2019 levels.

The study from NGO The Travel Foundation  in collaboration with CELTH, Breda University of Applied Sciences, the European Tourism Futures Institute, and the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, says that trillion-dollar investments in all available decarbonisation measures must be made as a matter of urgency.

It also says that trips by road and rail should be prioritised for shorter distances, while “Some limits must also be applied to aviation growth until it is fully able to decarbonise, in particular capping the longest-distance trips to 2019 levels”.

The report points out that long-haul trips “made up just 2 per cent of all trips in 2019 but are, by far, the most polluting”.

“If left unchecked, they will quadruple by 2050, accounting for 41 per cent of tourism’s total emissions (up from 19 per cent in 2019) yet still just 4 per cent of all trips,” it added.

The soon-to-be-released report, Envisioning Tourism in 2030, is set against a background of forecasts that global tourism is set to double in size by 2050 from 2019 levels.

According to the latest UNWTO/ITF research, tourism CO2 emissions grew at least 60 per cent from 2005 to 2016, with transport-related CO2 causing 5 per cent of global emissions in 2016.

Sector CO2 emissions are forecast to rise 25 per cent or more by 2030, compared to 2016, leading to further climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss which will jeopardise most tourism activities.

The authors say that “current strategies that rely solely on carbon offsetting, technological efficiencies and biofuels are woefully inadequate.”

The report concludes that the measures will fail to meet the Paris Agreement-aligned goals to halve emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

The team behind the report have used a ‘systems modelling’ technique to explore future scenarios for global travel and tourism.

They found that only one scenario – the best-case scenario – meant the world could still travel allowing travel and tourism to support the destinations and businesses that rely on it. All other scenarios were “much worse for the planet and tourism”, and might lead to “Covid-like restrictions and regulations” on travel and tourism.

The best case scenario requires substantial industry-wide and government investment, shifts in modes of transport, and support for vulnerable destinations. The authors say that additional measures must be applied immediately to prevent further escalation of emissions and to come even close to halving them by the end of this decade.

They conclude that destinations and tourism businesses must take action now to identify new opportunities and build resilience to changes in visitor patterns, potential new restrictions and regulation, and the worsening impacts of climate change.

In addition, a global coordinated response also needs to address the existing inequity within the tourism system. Many countries, particularly those in the Global South, have yet to fully develop their tourism economies and will have fewer resources to invest in green infrastructure.

In addition the report said that some destinations, such as island nations, which are both more susceptible to the impacts of climate change and most dependent on tourism and long-haul visitors, must be the first to be supported.

The modelling scope looked at direct emissions from transport and accommodation, including all trips of at least one night away from home, for holiday/leisure, business, visiting friends and family, domestic and international, and by all modes of transport.

The project team sought tourism growth scenarios that would meet the Glasgow Declaration’s goals, supporting the global commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero as soon as possible before 2050. Factors they considered included:

  1. Sustainable Aviation Fuel
  2. Electrification and efficiency
  3. Infrastructure improvements
  4. Taxes and subsidies
  5. Offsetting
  6. Travel behaviour
  7. Travel speed
  8. Sustainable Aviation Fuel
  9. Electrification and efficiency
  10. Infrastructure improvements
  11. Taxes and subsidies
  12. Offsetting
  13. Travel behaviour
  14. Travel speed

The Modelling resulted in only one decarbonisation scenario that could match current growth forecasts and so double revenue and trips in 2050 from 2019 levels. This involved trillion dollar investments and an emphasis on shorter trips, as well as a cap on long-haul travel by air.

“It’s clear that business as usual for tourism is neither desirable nor viable,” said Menno Stokman, Director at the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality (CELTH).

“Climate impacts are already here, increasing in frequency and severity, with monumental costs for humanity and the environment that affect tourism more than most other sectors. Current decarbonisation strategies will reach net zero far too late. So we must reshape the system.

“From a climate perspective, once we reach net zero we can travel as much as we like. Shifts in investment will get us there within a decade for shorter-distance trips. But for long-haul we need more time, and we should take this into account as tourism plans its future.”

Meanwhile Jeremy Sampson, CEO of the Travel Foundation, commented:

“As always, the risk is that the most vulnerable people and nations, those that did the least to cause climate change in the first place, will lose out.

“We urge governments at COP and beyond to coordinate globally and consider what is fair in terms of who pays for this huge investment, and what is equitable in terms of optimising global travel distribution.

“We must not exacerbate the existing system, which often fails to yield fair outcomes for host communities. Instead, tourism’s coming transformation is the sector’s opportunity to make good on its promise to be a catalyst for positive change once and for all.”

The Envision Tourism in 2030 recommendations aim to support the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism,  a UN-led initiative supporting the Paris Agreement goals, and which the Travel Foundation helps implement.

Intrepid Travel was among the first signatories when it launched last year at COP 26 and, alongside Destination Vancouver, Visit Barbados and the Netherlands Tourism Board, is sponsoring the report.

“This research clearly shows the need to plan now for a resilient low carbon tourism sector,” said Dr Susanne Etti, Global Environmental Impact Manager at Intrepid Travel.

“We must recognise the future will be different from business as usual and that the climate crisis is not a competitive advantage. Tourism operators should unite behind the Glasgow Declaration to align, collaborate and accelerate collective action and innovation to decarbonise travel. Only then can our industry truly achieve its huge potential sustainable development.”

The report is due to be published early next year.