The Key COP26 Takeaways for Travel and Tourism

Written byLexy Thorne
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From the Glasgow Declaration to the Net Zero Roadmap, Regenerative Travel explores the key takeaways from COP26 for travel and tourism. 

Source: Politico

Over a suitably bitter start to the Scottish November, key actors and parties from across the world flocked hurriedly towards Glasgow for COP26. Considered by top scientists and leading environmental experts as the “last, best hope” to combat cataclysmic climate change – or as the “Do or Die” summit by the storms of parading activists outside – the spotlight was certainly shone fiercely on our global leaders as they embarked on the difficult discussions to keep 1.5℃ alive.

Towards the beginning of what were a rather drizzly two weeks in Scotland’s industrial heartland, an initial sense of optimism appeared to be cultivated. Despite two important absences and a subsequent drop-out, strong attendance by others sent a clear signal that action on climate remained high on the global agenda.

As the fortnight of difficult climate discussions came to a close last weekend, the announcements of more stealthy agreements have since served to reinforce some of this optimism. Ranging from the fresh pledges made on methane and deforestation to new promises for increased global collaboration, this year’s climate conference has undoubtedly made some important headway, even if only time will discern their transformation into action.

While the jury certainly remains out to regard COP26 a success or not, at least one development of the conference that deserves particular recognition was the clearly enhanced focus on travel and tourism. Once considered a sector of the economic side-lines, the industry-specific talks and declarations to come out of this year’s climate change conference marked both a new era of respect for the industry and a heightened awareness of its role in the crisis.

With speeches by industry experts and international environment organisations repeatedly stressing that travel and tourism had become accountable for between 8-11% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, it not only became apparent that the sector has adopted a new consciousness of its impacts and the urgency of decarbonisation.

Source: @eodiin

What was announced for travel and tourism?

The Glasgow Declaration

Amongst the discussions that positioned travel and tourism as critical in the race to a more sustainable and decarbonised world, on 4th November, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) invited hundreds of private sector operators to sign the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action.

With an aim to align the diverse sector behind a single, overarching goal of halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest, the Glasgow Declaration intended to raise the climate ambition of tourism stakeholders and recognise the urgent need for a globally consistent plan on climate action.

Signatories to the Glasgow Declaration are committed to deliver a robust climate action plan within 12 months of signing, and to publicly report on their climate progress annually. Each plan must align with industry-wide efforts to measure emissions, decarbonise their businesses through direct emissions reductions, support natural solutions to draw down carbon by regenerating and protecting ecosystems, collaborating across the industry, and unlocking finance that supports climate initiatives.

By 5th November, more than 300 tourism stakeholders signed up to the Declaration, including entire countries, businesses and leading industry players to destinations, demonstrating a united front of the industry behind climate change.

Source: @matthew.foxx

The Roadmap to Net Zero

On 9th November, and to assist businesses in achieving the Glasgow Declaration, the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Accenture, launched the Net Zero Roadmap for Travel & Tourism. Intended to support the sector’s key stakeholders, including the private sector and sustainability experts, on their journeys towards net zero, the Roadmap provided critical information about the industry’s common roadblocks and areas of opportunity to both guide its decarbonised future.

The Journey Ahead

With revelations and recommendations for the industry’s climate contributions drawn from an analysis of 250 sector-specific businesses, the findings immediately exposed both the current lack of and urgent requirement for increased action.

Of the businesses analysed, for example, which ranged from accommodation and air travel to cruise lines and tour operators, only 42% were found to have a defined climate target (otherwise known as a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target), with just 20% of those aligned with science-based guidance.

Looking at these climate targets specifically by industry, the report also exhibited a significant diversity in progress. Cruise and aviation businesses, for instance, were most likely to have established a climate target (at 84% and 56% respectively), followed by accommodation (at 33%), tour operators (at 22%) and online travel agencies (at 14%). However, cruise and aviation were also identified as the travel and tourism businesses that would be hardest to abate, as they have large carbon footprints and cannot be decarbonized quickly.

The Current Roadblocks

The most common cross-industry roadblocks and challenges that were identified for travel and tourism reaching net zero emissions were also revealed and included:

Emission measurement and reporting – significant challenges, particularly with respect to a consistent definition over which emissions businesses ought to consider and which technical capabilities they will need to accurately report them.

Regulatory frameworks and government support – the fragmented nature of travel and tourism, coupled with a lack of government support and an inconsistent regulatory landscape, is contributing to planning uncertainty and preventing a transition to net zero.

Financing – insufficient finance alongside inconsistent regulatory frameworks present another key challenge for tourism businesses, particularly for those that rely on internal investment and lack the funding for net zero capabilities.

Infrastructure dependency – the significant dependence of travel and tourism businesses on local infrastructure, including the limitations imposed by local energy and waste infrastructures, transportation and the sustainability performance of available buildings also presents a critical roadblock to decarbonising.

Although these roadblocks apply to travel and tourism as a holistic sector, the Roadmap revealed further information on industry-specific challenges. For more information about these industry-specific challenges to decarbonising, visit page 22 of the Roadmap to Net Zero here.

Source: @timswaan

To Net Zero and Beyond

While the first section of the Roadmap to Net Zero laid out both the status quo and key challenges for travel and tourism, the second section presented a robust Decarbonisation Action Framework (DAF). Comprising four main action areas, regardless of industry, the DAF was created to provide Travel & Tourism businesses with a structured guide to their decarbonising journey:

Assess & Define – the first action area focuses on businesses assessing their current emission profile and impact areas, in addition to defining their climate targets and corresponding strategies. This includes a business taking a carbon inventory, conducting an assessment of the key sustainability issues that are currently confronting them, setting science-based targets to reduce emissions & developing a robust net zero strategy.

Build and Enable – the second action area of the Net Zero Roadmap focused on how businesses could build the required capabilities to execute their strategy. This includes raising the demonstrable commitment of leadership and management to the net zero agenda (i.e., through the creation of a dedicated net zero team), creating the finance and budgets for adaptation and mitigation efforts, and investing in human capital via sustainability training and development.

Reduce and Collaborate – the third action area relates to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and collaborating beyond the travel and tourism value chain. This includes both carbon insetting (actions taken internally to avoid, reduce and sequester carbon upstream or downstream along the value chain) and carbon offsetting (measures taken to compensate carbon emissions outside of the value chain). While a focus on carbon insetting was made in the Roadmap, encouraging businesses to prioritise their internal actions at carbon reduction, the report also encourages the need for increased collaboration, through which businesses will support other partners and ecosystem players to decarbonise.

Monitor & Report – the fourth and final action area of the Roadmap to Net Zero focused on monitoring and reporting emissions. As essential to tracking the progress of travel and tourism towards net zero, the Roadmap encouraged businesses to increase their capabilities for monitoring their emissions while calling on companies to both voluntarily and publicly disclose them.

Taken together, the Roadmap reveals that despite significant challenges, there are indeed many opportunities for Travel & Tourism to decarbonise. If committing to follow the four action areas laid out in the framework, real progress can certainly be made, though it is now critical that collaboration is enhanced across the sector.

At Regenerative Travel, we are digesting the takeaways of the summit and the recommendations of the Roadmap and remain committed to supporting our hotels on their net zero journeys.  

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