Over the last year or so, meteorologists have linked climate change and extreme weather events more confidently and publicly. Weather is variable within a considerable range and the climate change deniers have until recently been quick to attack anyone asserting the link between extreme weather events, whether floods or droughts, with climate change. The debate about climate change has for too long focused on the science of whether or not global warming is occurring rather than on the consequences.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published on 9th August concluded that climate change is “widespread, rapid, and intensifying” and that the evidence demonstrating the role of human activity in causing global temperature rises is “unequivocal”. Most of the discussion of climate change and the travel and tourism sector has focussed on the contributions that our sector’s greenhouse gas emissions has made to global warming through transport, accommodation and activities. Although most attention has been paid to aviation emissions, accommodation, sea and ground transport, and attractions are also significant contributors. On October 8th, three weeks before COP26 opens in Glasgow we shall be discussing how our sector can reduce its emissions and contribute to mitigation. As we have largely left it to others to address the challenge of reducing emissions while we continue with business as usual, our procrastination (and theirs) has left us facing the consequences.
We now have to ramp up efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while facing the challenge and costs of adaptation. Floods in China’s Henan province caused 380,000 to evacuate, overflowing rivers in Uganda affected 30 villages and 25 people died in landslides after big storms struck Mumbai and its surrounding region. Temperatures in Turkey and North Africa approached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), while South Africa and Brazil experienced freezing temperatures. Siberia is battling wildfires again. Finland experienced 31 consecutive days with maximum temperatures above 25 C — the longest heatwave ever recorded in the country. The New York Times recently reported that the fourth major heat wave of the summer will begin in the United States this weekend and continue into next week; wildfires are burning in 12 states and California officials predict a major salmon die-off. In Europe there have been floods in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, which have destroyed property and cost lives. The crisis is upon us. It is time to adapt to climate change.
The science behind the connections between climate change and extreme weather is explained with graphics on the BBC website. If you still have doubts take a look at BBC site and the work of the World Weather Attribution initiative. Hotter and more persistent heatwaves, more persistent droughts and extensive and intense wildfires, more extreme rainfall and flooding are our new normal. The insurance industry has been counting the costs of climate change, a sector “directly impacted both by the societal changes needed to reduce emissions and by the physical impacts of rising temperatures.” As the Association of British Insurers has pointed out “models based on historical data are becoming increasingly redundant…coastal weather events previously classed as being 1 in 100 year events are now likely to be observed each year.” They have given sobering advice concluding that “While it is likely that individual governments will reach different conclusions about the actions they need to take and the pace of change, key sectors that operate across the global economy will have little choice but to adapt their business models in line with the most ambitious global governments.”
The implications for our sector are clear. We must both reduce our emissions and adapt our business models. We need to adapt our infrastructure to reduce emissions and withstand extreme weather events. It surely no longer makes any sense to invest in buildings or transport that will not cope with extreme weather or become more expensive to operate, and governments regulate emissions through regulation and taxation.
Flooding, drought and wildfires scar the landscape in natural and urban areas and insurance costs rise. These destructive consequences of climate change also deter visitors often for years. Seasonality is a major driver of tourism as holidaymakers travel to escape cold winters (Canadians to Cuba) or the heat (from Arabia to Europe). Some destinations, a few, will perhaps benefit from climate change but disruptive change is upon us and for many it will be disastrous.