We explored key COP27 takeaways from the annual UN Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and steps the travel industry needs to take to achieve net-zero.
– Robert Langkjaer-Bain: Joint Editor at 5 Media
– Jeremy Smith: Co-Founder of Tourism Declares Climate Emergency
– Dr. Susanne Etti: Global Environmental Impact | Manager at Intrepid Travel
– Sherif El Ghamrawy: Founder at Basata Eco-Lodge
COP27 presented progress and momentum, but challenges persist for the tourism industry. How should travel companies and destinations step up to reach the travel industry’s climate ambitions? Below are key points and insights that will help world leaders and delegates understand how they may deliver best practices for people and the planet in their own communities.
What were your hopes going into COP27?
Strengthening unity and cooperation
Jeremy, Suzanne and Sherif:
We have a complete breakdown of our climate and planet. It is important to pull tourism together where we connect people to achieve our goals through collaboration, learning, action, and advocacy. As we come together, there is a sense of acceleration. Decision makers must be held accountable for climate change because it is a serious and real issue that we all need to find solutions for like reducing fossil fuels.
How do you feel about the outcomes of COP27?
There is undoubtedly progress, but we must not be complacent; challenges still persist.
COP26 was the launch of optimism and now, COP27 brought the launch of a new initiative. There is undoubtedly progress; there are now 2.5x more signatories for the Glasgow Declaration. The support comes from a far broader range of organizations and regions. This means we are developing a more inclusive and representative approach to climate action and tourism.There is a growing presence in the travel industry as there have also been multiple events representing tourism from different perspectives.
However, we must not be complacent. The notion we should be patting ourselves on the back for how far we have come is misaligned. One significant concern is the speed at which we shift as an industry because the conversations are just repeating the same actions as before, rather than confronting the reality that we need to promptly transform.
Failure in fossil fuel phase out is discouraging.
What is disappointing is not phasing out fossil fuels. This affects transportation and is a big part of many tour operators and touches on many different sectors that are a part of the tourism ecosystem. What does that mean for tourism? We contribute 8% to global gas emission. What role can we play so that we are ensuring we are using 1.5 as a limit and not a target to reach? What can it really mean for us around investment into innovation, being creative in transportation and also aviation?
It is important to phase out fossil fuels. For example, Intrepid Travel sits on scope three of carbon emission in our supply chain because we lease vehicles. It depends on the availability of fuels and electrification of having transport available. This is when governments take on the responsibility of electrification investment to ground transport which benefits the operators.
We need to educate and instill self-ownership on how everyone should responsibly travel and be proactive in decision-making.
We have to raise awareness of different stakeholders within the tourism sector; governments, ministries, local people, and tourists themselves on mindful traveling. Many travelers do not know how their leisure activities have environmental and social impacts on a destination. People may have a nice time at the beach, swimming pool, or in the desert. However, attention must be brought to how this may create more harm than good.
Decision makers have to truly believe that climate change is an issue. Many decision makers here have a term limit of six years. Leadership has to take action so there is something in place for the new incumbents to inherit and develop further.
What is it that people in tourism need to keep in mind and do from a point of view of climate justice?
Loss and damage was a key phrase and big outcome for COP27. Rich countries have refused to discuss it before and finally it was brought to the table this year. We ended up with the agreement that there would be a mechanism to deliver loss and damage funding to the poorer countries. Bearing in mind, lots of richer countries have committed to climate finance before but haven’t lived up to those commitments. This is still a significant step forward.
Put regenerative tourism at the heart of an inclusive recovery
We launched Tourism Declares in response to the concept of loss and damage. Years ago, I was a travel writer and I had visited an amazing place on the coast of Northern Mozambique looking out onto the Columbus Archipelago. It was a place that won awards and wonderful work was being done with the local community. It was also remote; no other infrastructure, no NGOs, no support network, no development agencies, just a remote lodge.
In April 2019, Cyclone Kenneth washed everything off to the Indian Ocean. 10 years of work was eradicated and the village was destroyed. That was a prime motivator, and we needed to do something because of two things:
- The loss of tourism and benefit tourism brings
- The loss in huge damage to the communities and their livelihoods
In this lodge, there were thousands of people connected to it through social media. It was those very people who were able to support the community afterwards. This often can happen because we like to go on holiday to places where there is nothing else there, but us and the lodge. This paradox is dynamic. How can tourism support these vulnerable places?
There are a lot of us going on holiday to places in the Global South, in low lying islands that are the most vulnerable, the least responsible, and the least able to do anything about it. Meanwhile, we have conversations about how we should fly less to countries and communities that have become most impacted by the loss of revenue from tourism. These same countries have done the least to cause it and are the most vulnerable and dependent on tourism.
There are hotels and tour operators going there and saying we are supporting these communities while shoveling 80% of money that is spent back to shareholders in Europe and America.
We need to shift all those pieces into something equitable so tourism can genuinely leave a positive legacy. This is what drives the very notion of organizations like Regenerative Travel: How can we actually deliver on the promise of tourism as a supposed force for good? This is at the heart of how we play our role in addressing the challenge of loss and damage and find answers for climate justice.
Develop risk, crisis, and disaster management strategies within the tourism sector
The loss and damage in the agreement was a win. Now, this raises the question around how does tourism have meaningful contributions to that loss and damage? There is significant commitment in parts of the Global South that are eligible for this type of funding. Places include Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, and the Caribbean. It is important to understand what the risk is and how to mitigate tourism’s risk, while supporting destinations and their communities. One aspect is looking into research and nature-based solutions due to destinations getting impacted by natural disasters.
Implement green finance management to enable the transition towards a sustainable future while investing in youth development
It is a good achievement knowing that there is funding. Now we have to think how this money should be managed. The money should be going to the cause and not the impact. We have to be cognizant and track who handles the money. If it goes to big companies, it will disappear. For the last 40 years, we’ve heard that money is coming to developed countries, but at the end of the day, it is going nowhere.
We have to be precise and know that the money is going into research and emphasize that young people have other tools to help with this because they will inherit the problem. Youth should know how to deal with the problem and put forth solutions.
In declaring climate emergency, how has this been received by tourism industry suppliers and travelers?
Global eco-awakening is driving the paradigm shift to make systemic changes
It has been the most rewarding feeling with the sense of empowerment that is put inside of other organizations that are compelled to live up to the commitment. All around the world, no matter what size or shape they were, were engaged in internal conversations that never spurred up before to see what they could do to make a change. It is gratifying to know that this was happening and people were developing ideas.
Intrepid Travel was one of the first few launch partners that supported the Glasgow Declaration. The whole organization sits with climate action. It is happening at all levels; staff, core management, leadership, everyone. This then has spread to worldwide operations, where our company has thought about how we may decarbonize trips.
With the experiences leading up to running Basata Eco-Lodge in respect for the environment, the venue has become a living lab model in how successful ecotourism can operate. I have worked with colleagues to create guidelines for Egypt’s ecology ecosystem. This helped serve as a tool and resource for the Ministry of Environment and Ministry for Tourism in shaping policies.