New study shows that the travel industry has kept a lid on emissions

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WTTC CEO Julia Simpson with Saudi Arabia minister of tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb during the WTTC’s 22nd Global Summit in Riyadh.
WTTC CEO Julia Simpson with Saudi Arabia minister of tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb during the WTTC’s 22nd Global Summit in Riyadh. Photo Credit: World Travel & Tourism Council

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- The World Travel & Tourism Council unveiled what it is calling the first real measure of the global travel and tourism sector's climate footprint. And the results are positive. 

The new research shows that in 2019 the travel sector's greenhouse gas emissions totaled 8.1% globally, down from previous estimates suggesting the sector was responsible for up to 11% of all emissions, WTTC said.

Launched here during the WTTC's 22nd Global Summit, the research covers 185 countries across all regions and will be updated annually with the latest figures.

The data shows that from 2010 to 2019, tourism GDP grew 4.3% annually on average, while its environmental footprint only increased by 2.4% annually. 

"This data contains an important truth," said Julia Simpson, CEO of WTTC. "Our carbon intensity is actually getting lower over time."

WTTC said technological developments and the introduction of a number of energy-efficiency measures helped keep emissions down. The numbers are evidence, WTTC said, that tourism growth is "decoupling from its greenhouse gas emissions."

Simpson called the 8.1% figure "the stake in the ground" and said nations should work to make their travel sectors more efficient. 

WTTC partnered with Saudi-based Sustainable Global Tourism Center to launch the inaugural Environmental & Social Research project, and said that the Saudi contribution had allowed WTTC to "gift this to governments. We are sharing it with the world to help them drive change in their countries." 

Simpson said that while tourism is making huge strides to decarbonize, governments must set the framework. "We need a steely focus on increasing the production of sustainable aviation fuels with government incentives," she said. "The technology exists. We also need greater use of renewable energy in our national grids -- so when we turn on a light in a hotel room, it is using a sustainable energy source." 

The ambitious project will eventually measure the sector's impact against a range of indicators, including pollutants, energy sources and water use. It will also measure social data including age, wage and gender profiles of travel and tourism related employment. Today's research is the first set of numbers being released.  

The research comes just months after WTTC released a report called Nature Positive Travel & Tourism, saying that the travel industry can play a critical role in halting and reversing the destruction of nature. 

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