Tourism development brings many benefits but causes many environmental impacts due to the carbon footprint left. Specifically, tourism accounts for about 8% of the world’s carbon emissions.
According to a review by the University of Sydney and published in the journal Nature Climate Change, carbon emissions in tourism are predicted to reach 6.5 billion tons by 2025. This is an increase of 44% compared to 2013 and accounts for about 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions today.
So, what is the carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a certain amount of gaseous emissions that are relevant to climate change and associated with human production or consumption activities.
Carbon-neutral tourism is one of the notable travel trends in 2023. Above all, this is also an industry-wide effort to reduce or “compensate” the amount of carbon generated in the travel journey.
How has tourism contributed to climate change?
Between 2005 and 2016, transport-related tourism emissions increased by more than 60%. In particular, airplanes and cars generate the most CO2, followed by tourist buses, ferries, and trains. In recent years, cheaper air tickets have led to a rapid increase in travelers and carbon emissions.
Accommodation facilities often use heating and air conditioning systems to ensure a comfortable temperature for guests. However, they consume a lot of electricity and produce significant carbon emissions. Especially in modern resorts and hotels, these emissions tend to increase. Hotels should use clean energy sources such as wind, solar, etc., but most still use energy from fossil fuels. According to the Green Lodging Trends Report 2018, only 21% of hotels use green energy.
Forests are considered carbon sinks as they absorb and store emissions. In particular, coastal mangroves can store four times as much carbon as tropical forests. However, to develop tourism, people have been destroying natural forests. As natural sinks disappear, carbon will return to the atmosphere and cause global warming. In addition, building tourist facilities and infrastructure also consumes a lot of energy.
Growing, processing, transporting, packaging, cleaning, and cooking processes cause a lot of emissions. The fact that restaurants and hotels import food ingredients from abroad also creates conditions for increasing emissions. Moreover, they will throw away leftover food. Thus, the carbon footprint of their production becomes useless. When this food decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, which strongly pollutes the environment and creates a greenhouse effect.
Efforts to reduce carbon footprint
Currently, the tourism industry is working to reduce its carbon footprint. Hotels apply advanced technologies such as solar-powered water heating or energy-saving devices.
Many airlines make commitments to cut carbon emissions on flights. For example, United Airlines is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 100% by 2050. In addition, using sustainable aviation fuel is an effective solution to reduce carbon emissions. Nevertheless, the production capacity is low and the cost is many times higher than that of conventional fuels, so not many airlines invest in it at the moment.
However, more than these innovations are needed to offset the emissions generated by the growing number of tourists. For unavoidable emissions, revenue from carbon credits should be used to invest in sustainable and carbon-neutral tourism development. Carbon credits (or carbon offsets) are permits that allow the owner to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses.
Sustainable tourism and carbon footprint reduction trends are of great interest to many tourists. Therefore, the tourism industry needs to focus on developing sustainable, environmentally friendly tourism to meet their needs. This helps to reduce the carbon footprint and create favorable conditions for long-term tourism development.