Outside of lockdowns in much of Europe, domestic tourism has enabled tourism businesses to survive. Tourism businesses are hurting, and increasing numbers are closing permanently. International Monetary Fund (IMF) research reveals that in the first half of 2020 tourist arrivals fell 65% and came to an almost complete halt in April. This was far worse than the 2008 crisis when arrivals fell by 8% and in the SARS epidemic in 2003 by 17%. The October World Economic Outlook projected the global economy would contract by 4.4% in 2020. In October the IMF was predicting a fall of 12% in real GDP in African and Caribbean tourism-dependent countries, and by as much as 21% in Pacific island nations such as Fiji. The IMF points to the seriousness of this pandemic for “tourism-dependent nations … in many ways locked into their economic destinies. Among small island nations, there are few, if any, alternative sectors to which they can shift labor and capital.”
We don’t know when the pandemic will abate and be sufficiently controlled for international tourism to thrive again. We know that the overwhelming majority of developing countries significantly dependent on tourism rarely have an alternative and are dependent on aviation for international arrivals. Domestic tourism is not an option. Our ancestors developed the Caribbean economies using slaves to grow tobacco and sugar, crops now regarded as injurious to health, and sugar cane has faced competition from sugar beet grown in the EU. The Caribbean islands have looked to tourism for their economic development and we have encouraged that. Monocultures are always hazardous. What if problems with aviation curtail or cease tourist arrivals? Islands in the Caribbean, Pacific and the Indian Ocean know that they are trapped between their need for aviation for tourism and the growing risk of inundation, erosion, salt water incursion into aquifers and a decline in fisheries.
Aviation is 3.5% of all the human activity that drives climate change. If aviation were a country, it would be the 6th largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, lying between Russia and Japan, if the EU countries were in the league table as individual countries it would be 5th. The UN Environment Programme’s 2020 Emission Gap Report forecasts that on current trends shipping and aviation will be responsible for between 60 and 220% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That is 30 years away, the life time of a commercial jet and a decade less than the time it takes to develop a new aircraft, secure its airworthy licenses and put it into production.
The problem is not aviation; the problem is the dirty fuel to which the sector is wedded. Given the time it takes to develop new fuels and aircraft. The need is urgent if aviation reliant international tourism is going to be operating in a decade or two. In any given year less than half of Europe’s population flies and recent research by the EIB found that given the choice to give up flying, meat, new clothes, video streaming services, or a car to fight climate change, 40% of Europeans would find it easiest to give up flying. Aviation has dragged its feet in motion to adopt new less polluting fuels, its confidence in its freedom to pollute may be misplaced. Electorates may not rebel at the ballot box if taxes on aviation climb steeply and large numbers of nations with votes at the UN, International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) may support measures to restrict flying to slow climate change.
The Fuelling Flight Project, a stakeholder group which includes Air France, easyJet, Finnair, IAG, KLM and Schipol, has this month lobbied the EU to strengthen its sustainability rules for Sustainable Aviation Fuels in Renewable Energy Directive. They fear that the proposed regulations will result in “massive capital investments in things that increase emissions compared to fossil fuels and/or that become stranded assets.”
We need to encourage the aviation industry to transition to clean fuels based on hydrogen; this will be expensive and will take time. The travel and tourism industry and those dependent on it for their livelihoods will pay a high price for inaction. It has taken years for ICAO to launch Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) and it takes effect only in 2027, a mere three years before the 2030 watershed by which significant reductions need to have been achieved to avoid the calamitous 1.5°C rise in average global temperatures. As a recently published analysis by Deutsche Welle reveals, CORSIA offsets’ costs would likely be well below 1% of operating costs. CORSIA will delay the change needed to make aviation sustainable and threatening the future of travel and tourism with disastrous consequences for many developing countries. Aviation is the Achilles heel of the travel and tourism industry – we need to demand change.