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10 May 2018

Tourism's carbon footprint four times higher than previously thought

Holidaymakers could one day pay "significantly" more for flights in order to offset their carbon footprint, after it was discovered that global tourism's environmental effect is nearly four times bigger than previously thought.

Tourism was previously thought to have been responsible for around 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, however a new study for the first time takes into account not only flight impact, but also tourist activities, such as food, hotels and shopping, which it says contributes £5tn (US$6.7tn, €5.6tn) to the tourism industry's carbon footprint.

Published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, the research paper looks at carbon flow between 189 countries between 2009 and 2013. According to the study, tourism is now responsible for 8 per cent of the global figure for carbon emissions.

According to Professor Manfred Lenzen, co-author of the study, an additional £237 (US$391, €268) would be needed in order to offset emissions from an Australia/England return flight.

Small island nations in particular – such as the Maldives or the Seychelles – attract a disproportionate share of carbon emissions for their size as a result of the number of international visitors. The highest tourism generators of greenhouse gases are affluent nations, the US leading the way, followed by China and Germany.

"There exists a popular mindset assuming that ‘tourism is a low-impact and non-consumptive development option'," said the study.

"This belief has compelled countries to pursue rapid and large-scale tourism development projects, in some cases attempting to double visitor volume over a short time period.

"Such a pursuit of economic growth comes with a significant carbon burden, as tourism is significantly more carbon-intensive than other potential areas of economic development.

"The results of this study could serve to inform the work of the UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in creating awareness of the carbon burden faced by tourism-stressed areas."

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