It’s Official. Over 400 delegates from 110 countries were delivered an uncompromising message at the Second International Conference on Climate Change organized by the UNWTO, UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). For recent coverage, see Swiss Info and check the UNWTO climate change pages here.
We met under clear autumnal skies in the pristine mountain resort of Davos, the brilliant sunshine bouncing off the sparkling granite mountains and burbling rivers transporting melted glaciers to the ocean -- an idyllic setting with only the multiple contrails of jet aircraft on their flight path from Milan overhead to provide sensory evidence of the impending crisis.
So what was the official line, what was communicated most clearly?
· Climate Change is Unequivocal (WMO & UNEP)
· Climate Change is no longer an environmental issue but a developmental issue (UNEP)
· Tourism is both a victim and a vector of climate change (UNWTO)
· If global average temperatures reach 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels, the impact on global tourism will be devastating – the author of the IPCC report on Ecosystem Impacts, Dr. Fischlein, came from Zurich to deliver this news to the conference in person. (IPCC)
· Even if all emissions generated by human activity ceased today, the global average temperature will rise by 1.4 degrees C in a matter of decades, so the 2 degree threshold/tipping point is not that far off.
· Tourism pumps 1.3 million megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually – just 5% of the global total. (UNWTO report commissioned of a panel of scientific exports as a major contribution to the conference)
· Tourism is, apprently, in danger of being demonized by the western press (notably in Europe) and prevented from fulfilling its vital role of poverty alleviation and wealth transfer.
· Less developed nations will be doubly hit if demand declines and climate changes continue to increase adaptation costs.
· Tourism should play a leadership role by encouraging the global community to develop and implement both mitigation and adaptation strategies now and ensure the tourism community is involved and its unique contribution taken into account.
Now this marks a huge step in bringing the climate change agenda forward and the organizers are to be highly commended. Justifiably described as a remarkable exercise in institutional collaboration, personnel from UNWTO, UNEP, WMO and WEF had clearly worked very hard to ensure we didn’t lack for information. The agenda was packed with over 30 presentations delivered between 3:0 PM on Monday Oct 1 to 12:0 noon on Wednesday. Some might say too packed as there was limited room for serious debate. But the mission of this event was clear from the start – we were there to observe and contribute to a second set of words on the subject: the UNWTO’s Second Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism and that mission was accomplished pretty well.
The draft Declaration document was a brilliant piece of “word smithing” and diplomatic craftsmanship and serves its purpose – it declares tourism’s concern, identifies the actions required of its stakeholders and can be used by policy makers and advocates to direct attention. But sadly, it is not enough to prevent the earth’s thermostat from continuing to move upwards. To achieve that, we need more discipline, clarity and downright honesty. For example:
· Implied, but never discussed with rigor, was the notion that tourism’s contribution to wealth distribution and poverty alleviation should justify special treatment for tourism compared to other sectors. It was as if tourism had recently discovered religion – a moral reason for existence when, for so many years, the message was consistently financial and employment. We must be careful how this message is conveyed as “our” sincerity and track record will be subject to laser like scrutiny by the same press that “demonize” tourism for its carbon footprint. Supposing other sectors like agriculture and power generation used the same argument – that they should be let off the hook because they produce the food we eat or the energy used to heat and or cool our dwellings?
· There was no response to the IPCC recommendation that the 2 degree C warming increase could possibly be avoided only if emissions peak between 2010 and 2015 and only if global emissions are then reduced to between 25 and 50% by 2050. Is tourism willing to lose 2100 megatons of excess carbon weight each year by 2050? If so how?
· There was no emphasis given to the impact that climate change will have on the global economy - either for the worse or better. There was no mention of the Stern report and discussion of the distinct possibility that WTO's optimistic forecasts might need to be revised downwards if global demand does more that simply adjust geographically and seasonally.
· There was no opportunity for delegates to exchange invaluable information and experience regarding actions that have worked in their jurisdictions in terms of reducing carbon emissions. That will have to happen now and in another post I’ll suggest ways in which we could do that.
Don’t get me wrong – it was a start of an arduous journey and, again, the organizers should be commended highly for their efforts. It’s now up to each of us engaged in the tourism industry to move out of denial, anger, fear or even bargaining into concentrated focus on mitigation and adaptation action.
25 years have passed since Rio. We were warned then but did little but grow. Business as usual prevailed. We no longer have time on our side.
The Icarus Foundation will endeavour in the next few days and weeks to address and discuss the topics that formed the agenda at Davos. The UNWTO has promised to make all the presentations to the public who didn't wish to burn more carbon getting there but can use the invaluable material to help this industry play its part in addressing the biggest issue of the century.