The growth in tourism since 1950 has been facilitated by paid annual holidays and by aviation. Those who live in holiday areas have often suffered from overtourism when lockdowns have been eased but international travel has been prohibited. Destinations dependent on international arrivals have suffered badly. But these disruptions are, we anticipate, only temporary, occasioned by a pandemic which there is good reason to believe is temporary, and which vaccinations and treatments will enable us to learn to live with.
Last year the Pew Research Center surveyed people in 14 countries, amid the pandemic, about climate change. An average of 70% said that they were concerned about the threat of global climate change, 69% said the same about the spread of infectious diseases. The climate change issue and the pandemic are now equally salient, and politicians are responding.
Just last week, US President Joe Biden asserted that this is the “decisive decade” for tackling climate change. In his opening address, he said, “Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis… We must try to keep the Earth’s temperature to an increase of 1.5°C. The world beyond 1.5 degrees means more frequent and intense fires, floods, droughts, heatwaves and hurricanes – tearing through communities, ripping away lives and livelihoods.”
The rhetoric has changed gear. At the virtual summit last week, there was more of a sense of urgency. The rhetoric is stronger and the US is back at the table urging others also to act. China and the US jointly committed to “working together and with other Parties to strengthen implementation of the Paris Agreement” and they have committed to “Cooperation on addressing emissions from international civil aviation and maritime activities.”
In March 2020, the respected German consultancy Roland Berger forecast that if other industries decarbonise in line with current projections, aviation could account for up to 24% of global emissions by 2050 unless there is a significant technological shift.
The longer the aviation industry delays taking effective scalable action the bigger the crisis will be when governments act to curtail emissions. The aviation sector is now behind others in addressing climate change and their preferred solutions, carbon offsetting, Sustainable Aviation Fuels, and net-zero, have significant weaknesses and are not credibly scalable.
The Achilles’ heel of our sector is aviation. 81% of aviation emissions come from passenger travel; and 19% from freight. From passenger aviation, 60% of emissions come from international travel, and 40% from domestic. The failure of the aviation industry to decarbonise endangers the future of travel and tourism for the outbound industry, travellers and holidaymakers. And most seriously, for those destinations dependent upon aviation for tourism, their essential source of foreign exchange.
Planes being constructed and commissioned now will still be in service in thirty years – I would not want to gamble on governments paying scrappage. The travel and tourism sector needs to push the industry hard to transition to a decarbonised future. Progress needs to be made much faster. It is on our sector’s interest that at COP26 in November pressure on the industry for its decarbonisation increased. Failure by the aviation sector to decarbonise will have serious consequences for our industry, with declining business and employment. We must press for more rapid decarbonisation, it is time for real change.
WTM, as part of its Platform for Change, has published Time for Effective Action to Remove Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Aviation.
Climate scientists: concept of net-zero is a dangerous trap