The challenge of carbon pollution for travel industry

The Challenge of Carbon Pollution

The debate continues about the extent of the contribution of natural variation to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. The physics and chemistry of how carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming has been known since the 19th century. It is also clear that the only cause of carbon pollution we can influence is the pollution that we cause ourselves, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. In the consumption of travel and tourism the major cause of carbon pollution is transport – around 90%, and aviation is the major part of that.

In the industry there is much talk about what will be done in the future, about future solutions. But the problem is cumulative and the longer we leave doing something significant to reduce carbon pollution the bigger the problem we have created and will have to deal with. In the UK there is much talk among politicians about how we much not leave our debts to our children – austerity must be used to reduce indebtedness Those same politicians are unwilling to apply the same logic to the challenge of not leaving our children with our legacy, one caused by our profligate pollution of our environment with carbon.

The latest IPCC report published just as WTM London was opening last month warned that human induced climate change proceeds apace. We addressed the challenge in a panel session on Reducing Energy and Water Consumption – Good for the Environment and the Bottom Line. Watch the video of the session in the window above.

The results of the conference in Peru are disappointing although there is still a chance that something may be achieved in Paris in December – delegates have approved a framework for setting national pledges to be submitted to a summit next year. 194 nations reached a very low level compromise – when will the pledges be made and acted upon?

There needs to be more private sector leadership – and that is why in the World Responsible Tourism Awards we recognised Thomson Airways for their achievement in reducing the pollution from their aircraft – they have not left it to others, nor have they postponed action.

Thomson Airways, as part of TUI, has adopted the same approach to sustainability as the rest of the group. They have accepted responsibility, set targets for carbon reduction, and then delivered on them. Over the past three years, Thomson has improved its airline carbon efficiency by 7.4%, achieving average carbon emissions of 69.5g per Revenue Passenger Kilometre (RPK). This has been achieved through a mixture of on-going efficiency planning, direct routings, adjusting maintenance regimes, adapting on-board operations to reduce weight carried, and investment in cutting edge aviation technology. They have demonstrated what can be achieved, using current approaches, to improve carbon efficiency. TUI has demonstrated that marginal gains in fuel efficiency deliver reduced carbon emissions now – they set short term targets and meet then.

Will others follow, set a target and become leaders? We cannot leave this to the politicians. At WTM in Sao Paulo, Cape Town, Arabia, and London in November, we shall be returning to this issue- we need to see private sector leadership.

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Harold is Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he teaches and researches in the Centre for Responsible Tourism. Harold researches on tourism, local economic development and poverty reduction, conservation and responsible tourism and teaches Masters and PhD students. as well as the industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists. Harold also undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism which he founded in 2002 and which promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration.

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