Can the travel and tourism industry tackle the pressing climate crisis?
Dubai, 1 May 2023, The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Regional Office for Arab States participated in the ministerial debate at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, UAE, which is the market-leading, international travel and tourism event unlocking business potential within the Middle East for inbound and outbound tourism professionals. Tourism and economy figureheads from across the globe joined the debate to address how the travel and tourism industry can adapt to tackle the pressing climate crisis and meet current regulations.
As the world leaders will gather in the UAE this year for COP28 to find solutions to the threats posed by climate change, the session looked ahead at the crucial role the tourism industry plays in that process and the challenges faced. Climate change poses significant threats to the tourism sector, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, changes in temperature, and potential conflicts over natural resources.
The debate addressed what the travel industry has achieved to date and what frameworks, policies, targets, and timelines are in place at the country, regional, and international levels. It also tackled the fallout of climate change and if a carbon-neutral future is really possible for the sector. The tourism sector and government can work together to implement effective policies and initiatives, such as setting targets for carbon reduction, promoting sustainable tourism practices, and incentivizing the development of sustainable tourism infrastructure. They can engage stakeholders, including local communities, to build support for sustainability initiatives and ensure that policies are implemented effectively.
“It is important for policymakers and industry leaders to take concrete and meaningful action to address risks, losses, and the sustainability challenges facing the tourism sector,” said Dr. Sujit Mohanty, Chief of the UNDRR, Regional Office for Arab States.
Collaboration between the tourism industry, local governments, and disaster prevention organizations is essential to building resilience and reducing risk in disaster-prone areas. The tourism sector can provide valuable data on visitor patterns, infrastructure, and resource use, which can help make informed decisions. Tourism businesses can work closely with local governments and disaster prevention organizations to identify and prioritize key areas of concern, and jointly develop strategies to reduce risk and increase resilience.
Several countries in the Middle East have launched ambitious sustainability initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment. For instance, Saudi Arabia launched the Saudi Green Initiative, steering the implementation of a sustainable long-term climate action plan. Similarly, the UAE launched the Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative, which is a national drive to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. While progress has been made towards sustainability, the Middle East still faces several challenges, including water scarcity, desertification, and reliance on fossil fuels.
"Natural hazards can have devastating effects on tourism, resulting in economic losses of trillions of dollars,” added Dr. Mohanty. “Unless the private sector and tourism industry invest in disaster risk reduction, we can expect these losses to double in the coming years."
The impacts of climate change on tourism are likely to manifest themselves in a number of different ways according to local conditions. Countries need to explore adaptation strategies and invest in more resilient infrastructure. The session highlighted how tourism can support government mandates and policies by promoting sustainable tourism practices that reduce carbon emissions and promote responsible resource use. Tourism can play a role in raising awareness and promoting sustainability initiatives to ensure a greener future.