Take-off for greener travel
G7 Issue

Take-off for greener travel

Travel and tourism, along with the world, face the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. But there is hope on the horizon – and even opportunity

Despite the global shutdown in 2020, travel and tourism are recovering. Our 10-year forecast shows our sector will once more outpace global growth at a rate of 5.8% annually, while global gross domestic product, by comparison, is set to grow at 2.7%. Let me put that in human terms. By 2032 our sector will create 126 million new jobs, to reach a total of 425 million globally. Almost 8% of all the new jobs will be created in the G7 countries. That is 9.6 million new jobs created by the travel and tourism sector in the G7 alone, by 2032. 

But nothing is inevitable. We know that the global economy is at a precarious point. The war in Ukraine is devastating. We face new geopolitical threats and cross-border conflicts. Inflation is a very serious concern. And although a deep recession might be avoided, the global economy is fragile. So, I appeal to governments all over the world: take travel and tourism seriously. Because we can help. 

Too often our sector is neglected. We saw it starkly during the pandemic, when international coordination to safely reopen borders was non-existent and frankly shambolic. Back then, few lone voices were calling for international alignment. And now we face the greatest crisis of our times: climate change. Our sector sees it first hand: extreme temperatures creating unliveable cities, forest fires destroying flora and fauna, rising seas swallowing up coastlines. 

As the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Nature Positive Travel & Tourism report shows, tourism from nature generates over $600 billion, which provides opportunities for some of the world’s poorest countries to protect biodiversity and their communities. 

A world first

Until now it has not been possible to quantify our climate impact. We have our renowned Economic Impact Report, which shows the value of travel and tourism. But measuring all the emissions across our businesses and supply chains is difficult. We can measure the energy to fly a plane, but what about the energy it takes to make and deliver millions of bottles of water? And how many of those bottles would have been consumed regardless? Well, now we can measure that. With our partners Oxford Economics and the Saudi-based Sustainable Tourism Global Center, we have launched the world’s first ever environmental and social impact methodology for travel and tourism. 

We now know our carbon impact, both globally and for 185 countries across all regions. We can compare where we are today to 10 years ago. And we can track it. And not just greenhouse gases, but everything from energy consumption to water use. This will give businesses within the sector the data they need and it will give governments hard facts on how to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The great promise in this information is that there is a divergence of the sector’s economic growth from its climate footprint between 2010 and 2019. This indicates that travel and tourism’s economic growth is decoupling from its greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions per dollar generated are decreasing. This is critical. Although our total emissions are at the lower range of previous estimates, we need to decarbonise aggressively. But we absolutely cannot do it alone. 

Here are our three top priorities: 

Energy grid: Around one quarter of our emissions come from the electricity we use. While we look to our own energy efficiency, we need governments to switch to renewables for the energy we use from the grid. 

Sustainable aviation fuels: Transport accounts for more than one third of emissions. Our business is, after all, travel! 

Electric and hydrogen: Planes will arrive in the future but if we want to meet the Paris Agreement targets, it is critical we have wide-scale availability of sustainable aviation fuels. 

We need a commitment by fuel producers to produce sustainable aviation fuels, and we need government policies to incentivise its production. The model for governments already exists – we have had incentives for electric vehicles. And the technology already exists for sustainable aviation fuels, but we need governments to make this a priority. 

Lastly – more than anything we need courage. We have survived the greatest crisis in our history, and we will come back even stronger. You are the leaders who recovered this resilient sector after the pandemic. Climate change might be a problem on a planetary scale, but it is also an opportunity.