• green growth;
  • aviation;
  • greenhouse gas emissions;
  • tourism policy;
  • developing countries


  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

International tourism is portrayed by many agencies and governments as a significant contributor to sustainable development strategies. The economic impacts of international tourism are undoubtedly substantial; however, they need to be framed within a broader understanding of impacts throughout the tourism system. Emissions from tourism and their contribution to climate change therefore set a potentially major challenge for the sustainability of international tourism. Following an examination of the current and forecast growth of emissions from international tourism and the policies and strategies of lead bodies, industry and national governments, tourism is seen as grounded in a pro-growth paradigm that offers no hope within the foreseeable future of absolute reductions in emissions. Given the potential implications of this finding, it is concluded that a significant reassessment is required of the potential benefits of tourism for sustainable development. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment


  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Tourism presents significant sustainable development policy dilemmas. International tourism is projected to nearly double by 2030 (UNWTO, 2011). It is a major source of foreign exchange for many countries and is widely perceived by governments, supranational institutions and NGOs as a relatively benign means of economic development and employment generation (UNWTO, 2006). Yet it is increasingly recognized that tourism is a significant contributor to undesirable socio-economic and environmental change, including biodiversity loss and climate change (Hall, 2010a; Hall and Lew, 2009; Scott et al., 2012a, 2012b).

Tourism's role in sustainable development highlights the inherent contradictions and complexities of translating notions of sustainability into post-carbon political realities, and the centrality of climate change as a sustainable development issue (Ahmed et al., 2009; GHF, 2009; IPCC, 2007; Kok et al., 2008). Tourism both contributes to and is strongly affected by climate change, leading to significant challenges and potential paradoxes in governance and long-term development (UNWTO, UNEP and WMO, 2008). This article first discusses the significant economic role of tourism and its advocacy as a development mechanism. Following a critique of the notion of ‘balance’ in sustainable tourism, it then goes on to highlight tourism's growing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contribution to climate change. The paper questions whether tourism's contribution to climate change can be reconciled with notions of sustainable or ‘balanced’ growth. The article concludes that a focus on visitor growth and energy efficiency gains alone cannot fundamentally decouple tourism growth from emission growth.

Tourism and Development

  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Tourism is an extremely significant global activity. In 2012, international tourist arrivals are expected to reach one billion for the first time, up from 25 million in 1950, 277 million in 1980 and 528 million in 1995 (UNWTO, 2012). Although international tourism is usually the primary national policy focus because of its trade dimensions (Coles and Hall, 2008), the vast majority of tourism is domestic in nature and accounted for an estimated 4.7 billion arrivals in 2010 (Cooper and Hall, 2013).

Ranked the fourth largest economic sector after fuels, chemicals and food, tourism contributes an estimated 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and 6–7% of employment (direct and indirect) (UNWTO, 2012). International tourism's export value, including international passenger transport, is US$1.2 trillion (in 2011), accounting for 30% of the world's commercial service exports or 6% of total exports (UNWTO, 2012). Tourism is one of the five top export earners in over 150 countries, while in 60 countries it is the number one export sector (UNCTAD, 2010). It is also the main source of foreign exchange for one-third of developing countries and one-half of least developed countries (LDCs) (UNWTO and UNEP, 2011).

The UNWTO predicts that the number of international tourist arrivals will increase by an average 3.3% per year between 2010 and 2030 (an average increase of 43 million arrivals a year), reaching an estimated 1.8 billion arrivals by 2030 (UNWTO, 2011, 2012). Upper and lower forecasts for global tourism in 2030 are between approximately two billion arrivals (‘real transport costs continue to fall’ scenario) and 1.4 billion arrivals (‘slower than expected economic recovery and future growth’ scenario) (UNWTO, 2011). Most growth is forecast to come from the emerging economies and the Asia-Pacific, and by 2030 it is estimated that 57% of international arrivals will be in what are currently classified as emerging economies (UNWTO, 2011, 2012).

Given the past and projected growth of international tourism, it is strongly promoted as an important element in poverty reduction strategies and development financing. International tourism to developing economies is perceived as important by policy-makers because it is regarded as an avenue for competitive economic specialization and improvement in foreign exchange flow within the context of increasingly open economies (UNCTAD, 2004). The UNWTO (2006, p. 1) outlines several reasons why tourism is an ‘especially suitable economic development sector for LDCs’:

  1. Tourism is consumed at the point of production; the tourist has to go to the destination and spend his/her money there, opening an opportunity for local businesses of all sorts, and allowing local communities to benefit through the informal economy, by selling goods and services directly to visitors;
  2. Most LDCs have a comparative advantage in tourism over developed countries…;
  3. Tourism is a more diverse industry than many others…;
  4. Tourism is labour intensive, which is particularly important in tackling poverty…;
  5. It creates opportunities for many small and micro entrepreneurs, either in the formal or informal economy; it is an industry in which start-up costs and barriers to entry are generally low or can easily be lowered;
  6. Tourism provides not only material benefits for the poor but also cultural pride…;
  7. The infrastructure required by tourism, such as transport and communications, water supply and sanitation, public security, and health services, can also benefit poor communities.

Similar positions have been advocated by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC, 2004) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) (2009a, 2009b), as well as international development agencies, including the Asian Development Bank, British Department for International Development, Canadian International Development Agency, German Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, Inter-American Development Bank, Swedish Agency for International Development Cooperation, and United States Agency for International Development (Gössling et al., 2009; Hawkins and Mann, 2007). Nevertheless, such perspectives with respect to tourism and sustainability, including poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation, have also been substantially criticized (Chok et al., 2007; Hall, 2007, 2010a). Blake's (2008) study of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda indicated that hotels and restaurants, and in particular the transport industry, provide below-average shares of income to poor households compared with other export sectors, leading to the conclusion that ‘these results paint a fairly poor picture of the ability of tourism to alleviate poverty’ (Blake, 2008, p. 511), particularly because tourism tends to be disproportionally beneficial to the already wealthy (Blake et al., 2008; Schilcher, 2007) and can reinforce existing inequalities. In the case of Thailand, ‘the expansion of foreign tourism demand creates general equilibrium effects that undermine profitability in tradable sectors (such as agriculture) from which the poor derive a substantial fraction of their income’ (Wattanakuljarus and Coxhead, 2008, p. 929). Similarly, the contribution of international aviation to sustainable development has also been brought into question (Daley, 2009; Walker and Cook, 2009).

In addition to contrary evidence for tourism being a net contributor to poverty reduction and alleviation, tourism also contributes substantially to resource consumption and global change (Gössling and Hall, 2006; Scott et al., 2012b). Although the notion of sustainable tourism is at the forefront of public and private sector policy statements, the more that is written about sustainable tourism the less sustainable it potentially appears to be (Bramwell and Lane, 2012; Hall, 2011). At least two primary reasons can be put forward as to why the sustainability of tourism is being questioned. First, while tourism has been promoted in the development community for over 40 years, the mid- to long-term relative contribution of tourism projects to development strategies remains poorly evaluated (Hawkins and Mann, 2007). There has been greater interest by international development agencies in advocating tourism and initiating projects than in critically assessing the consequences of tourism-related development strategies (Gössling et al., 2009; Zapata et al., 2011). Second, in which the first reason is embedded, the paradigmatic and institutional context of tourism and sustainable development often makes it difficult to recognize 'other' policy alternatives and priorities (Hall, 2011).

In tourism policy terms, sustainability is primarily seen as being ‘environmental’ and development as ‘economic’ (and to a lesser extent ‘social’), and the concept of sustainable tourism or sustainable tourism development aims to mitigate the paradox between them without fundamentally affecting existing economic relationships (Hall, 2009; Saarinen, 2006). This approach is conveyed at various scales of governance, but is perhaps most dramatically seen in the work of influential supranational organizations (UNWTO, 2002, 2007, WEF, 2009a, 2009b: WTTC, 2003, 2009).

The UNEP and UNWTO (2005, p. 9) argue that ‘Delivering sustainable development means striking a balance between’ the three dimensions or ‘pillars’ of sustainable development of economic sustainability, social sustainability and environmental sustainability. In the case of the UNWTO, as well as those of many other supranational, national and destination governance bodies, the rhetoric of 'balance' has become a cornerstone of sustainable tourism (Hall, 2009, 2010b) and aviation (Walker and Cook, 2009) policy paradigms. For example, according to then UNWTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli, the UNWTO is 'committed to seek balanced and equitable policies to encourage both responsible energy related consumption as well as anti-poverty operational patterns. This can and must lead to truly sustainable growth within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals' (UNWTO, 2007). Yet the continuing contribution of a growing tourism industry to resource consumption and environmental change raises a clear question as to whether ‘balanced’ sustainable tourism or ‘green economy/growth’ approaches are actually achievable. Nowhere is this situation more pronounced than with respect to the relationship between tourism and climate change.

Tourism and Climate Change

  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Tourism transport, accommodation and activities combined were estimated by a UNWTO commissioned study to contribute an estimated 5% to global anthropogenic emissions of CO2 in 2005 (Scott et al., 2008). Most CO2 emissions are associated with transport, with aviation accounting for 40% of tourism's overall carbon footprint, followed by cars (32%) and accommodation (21%). Aviation's share of global emissions of CO2 are generated by the less than 2% of the world's population who annually participate in international aviation (Peeters et al., 2007). Cruise ships account for around 1.5% of global tourism emissions (19.17 Mt CO2) (Eijgelaar et al., 2010). However, this assessment does not include the impact of short-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs). A more accurate assessment of tourism's contribution to global warming can be made on the basis of radiative forcing. Scott et al. (2010) estimate that tourism contributed to 5.2–12.5% of all anthropogenic forcing in 2005, with a best estimate of about 8%.

While tourism's contribution to climate change is considerable, the contribution of emissions from tourism is expected to grow substantially in absolute terms and proportionately if other economic sectors are able to achieve their emission reduction targets (legislated or voluntary). Based on a BAU scenario for 2035, which considers changes in travel frequency, length of stay, travel distance and technological efficiency gains, Scott et al. (2008) suggest that CO2 emissions from tourism will grow by about 135% to 2035 (compared with 2005), totalling approximately 3059 Mt (Table 1). Most of this growth will be associated with air travel, which transported 51% of international visitor arrivals in 2011 (UNWTO, 2012). These estimates are similar to WEF (2009a) estimates and are consistent with Airbus (2012) and Boeing (2012) projections that the aviation global fleet will double between 2011 and 2031 with a 4.9% per year growth in passenger numbers. The IEA (2009) baseline scenario in which air travel almost quadruples between 2005 and 2050 represents a tripling of energy used for aviation, accounting for 19% of all transport energy used as compared with 11% in 2006 (IEA, 2009).

Table 1. Anticipated growth rates in tourism and transport, various organizations
OrganizationAbsolute growth rates expected
UNWTO–UNEP–WMO (2008)Emissions of CO2 will grow by 135% over 30 years, from 1304 Mt CO2 in 2005 to 3059 Mt CO2 in 2035
UNWTO (2011, 2012)Growth in international tourist arrivals 2010–2030 of 3.3% per year (central projection)
WEF (2009)Tourism related CO2 emissions (excluding aviation) will grow at 2.5% per year until 2035, and aviation emissions at 2.7%, with total estimated emissions of 3164 Mt CO2 by 2035 (plus 143%)
Airbus (2012)Growth in revenue passenger kilometres by 150% between 2011 and 2031 (averaging 4.7% per year), with the global fleet of passenger aircraft growing from 15 560 to 32 550 in the same period
Boeing (2012)Growth in global aircraft fleet from 19 890 in 2011 to 39 780 by 2031; airline traffic in revenue passenger kilometres: 5% per year
IEA (2009)Air travel almost quadruples between 2005 and 2050 with an average worldwide growth rate of 3.5% per year, but over 4% worldwide until 2025
IMO (2009)Absolute emissions from shipping will grow by 1.9–2.7% per year up to 2050

It is important to note that, although international tourism provides for only 16% of tourism trips, it makes a disproportionate contribution to emissions. Scott et al. (2008, p. 127) calculated that, although four billion domestic overnight tourist trips generated 479 Mt CO2 emissions (120 kg per trip), 750 million international overnight tourist trips were responsible for close to the same level of emissions (371 Mt CO2 or 494 kg per trip), meaning that, within emissions generated by tourists (850 Mt CO2), 56% came from domestic tourist trips and the other 44% from international tourist trips, in which air travel caused 87% of CO2 emissions (321 Mt CO2).

If travel and tourism remain on a BAU pathway then they will become an increasing source of GHG emissions in the medium- to long-term future. Even if the per capita per trip contribution of tourists to GHG emissions continues to fall at the historic rate of greater efficiencies from technological, governance and management innovations, the absolute contribution will continue to grow as a result of increasing tourism mobility (Gössling et al., 2010; Hall, 2010b, 2011). If the world economy embarks on an absolute emission reduction pathway, growing tourism emissions remain juxtaposed to declining overall emissions, and an increasing share of the global carbon budget will be the responsibility of the tourism sector (Scott et al., 2010).

Findings at the global scale are also confirmed at the national level, with tourism demonstrating relatively low eco-efficiency (Gössling, submitted manuscript). For example, the eco-efficiency of the Dutch economy is approximately 0.3 kg CO2/€, while for tourism the average value is 1 kg CO2/€ (de Bruijn et al., 2010). Tourism is the fifth most emission intense of 17 sectors in Australia (Dwyer et al., 2010), and the fourth of 22 sectors in Switzerland (Perch-Nielsen et al., 2010).

Industry projections also show absolute emission increases due to expected growth in traffic volumes of 4.7% (RPK; Airbus 2012) to 5.0% (Boeing 2012) per year. The International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO's) ambitious 2%/year fuel efficiency goal to 2050 would lead to overall growth in emissions. Owens et al. (2010) suggest that there will be a 2.0–3.6-fold increase in CO2 emissions from aviation by 2050. Even the IEA (2009) ‘Blue Shifts’ scenario, developed to describe a strong state interventionist stance with respect to policies that dampen air travel growth, the development of high-speed rail and the aggressive promotion of the use of telecommunications as a substitute for travel, still forecasts a tripling of air travel between 2005 and 2050. At the national level, the UK Department of Transport (2007) predicts that, taking radiative forcing into account, the 9% contribution of aviation in 2005 to total UK emissions will have grown to approximately 15% in 2020 and 29% in 2050. It is thus fundamentally unclear how 'carbon neutral' positions are to be achieved in the forecasts and scenarios posited by these organizations. How then can growth in tourism, especially with respect to aviation, that is going to lead to continuing increases in emissions in the foreseeable future, be reconciled with sustainable development?

Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change

  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Consumer Response

Continued growth in emissions from aviation and tourism are clearly in conflict with global climate change and GHG reduction goals. Despite enthusiasm for voluntary changes in consumer tourism behaviour, individuals do not appear willing to give up international travel or change markedly (Cohen and Higham, 2011; Gössling et al., 2012). As Peeters et al. (2009, p. 248) observe, ‘Many people have a powerful belief in their personal right and need to travel, coupled at the same time with a contradictory powerful belief that others should be denied that right for the good of the planet’. Even the most environmentally aware tourists might not be more willing to alter travel behaviour and may even be among the most active travellers (Barr et al., 2009; Gössling et al., 2009; McKercher et al., 2010). Consumers fatigued from energy conservation and emission reduction efforts at home and work may be even more susceptible to rebound effects while on holidays. Given the failure of education and social marketing to change consumer behaviour, Scott et al. (2012b) therefore argue that universal climate policy and regulatory strategies appear to be the best option for generating change.

Government Response

There is currently no agreed global framework for emission reductions, although voluntary post-Kyoto emission reduction pledges have been made by individual countries (Jotzo, 2010). International aviation is not included in the Kyoto Protocol and has not been an explicit topic of post-Kyoto emission reduction negotiations. Under Kyoto, bunker fuels for international aviation and shipping are separated from national emission inventories. Emissions from international aviation are currently not accounted for by any nation. Although the Kyoto Protocol states that ICAO is responsible for limiting and reducing emissions from international aviation in Annex I nations (ICAO, 1997), little progress has been made towards reductions (Lyle, 2011).

The EU included aviation in an emission trading scheme (EU ETS) at the start of 2012 (European Parliament and Council, 2009), but deferred application of the scheme to flights operated to and from countries outside the ETS in November 2012, ostensibly because of progress in global aviation emission negotiations (European Commission, 2012). The inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS has been subject to legal challenge and intense opposition from trading partners, including China and the United States, which prohibited their airlines from participating. Nevertheless, the EU ETS will not significantly change tourism flows or reduce absolute aviation sector emissions (Gössling et al., 2008; Mayor and Tol, 2010; Scott et al., 2010, 2012a), with ticket price increases being significantly lower than fuel surcharges, baggage fees, and airport development levies passed on by airlines to airline customers (Ares, 2012).

No country has a comprehensive strategy to achieve measurable and monitorable emission reductions in tourism (OECD and UNEP, 2011; Scott et al., 2012b). Most countries currently severely underestimate their national tourism emissions, as they omit bunker fuel use from national inventories (Gössling, submitted manuscript). In Australia, air transport will more than quadruple by 2050 even though domestic aviation is covered under a 2012 emission trading scheme (Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2012). Moreover, most, if not all, national and regional tourism strategies continue to focus on growth in visitor numbers (OECD and UNEP, 2011). Indeed, the sheer size of the CO2-e emissions produced by the air travel of visitors to and residents from New Zealand (7893 and 3948 Gg, respectively, in 2005) means that no single offsetting scheme targeted inside the country appears physically or politically achievable (Smith and Rodger, 2009).

Industry Response

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has a 'vision' that 'carbon neutral growth' can be achieved in the 'medium term', reaching a stated −50% target in 2050 with respect to current aviation emissions, and that a plane producing no emissions can be built within 50 years. In its 'four-pillar strategy', IATA (2009) acknowledges that much of the technology that will be necessary to achieve these goals remains unknown. The ICAO (2009) propose improvements in fuel efficiency of at least 2% per year until 2050, primarily through technical advances, improved air traffic management (ATM), ‘economic measures’ and the use of biofuel. IATA (2012a) suggests that taxes and charges have uncertain environmental benefits, while emission trading in an open global system is preferable and should be introduced by the ICAO. In aviation, the industry proposition is thus largely to not instigate legislation, as the problem will be resolved in the longer-term future with currently unknown technology. With respect to shipping, the IMO (2009) anticipates emission reductions under new agreements on efficiency, but still expects CO2 emissions to at least double by 2050. Although accommodation accounts for 21% of global emissions from tourism (Scott et al., 2008), there is very limited evidence that the sector has begun to engage in low-carbon building or retrofitting (Su et al., 2012).

The industry response to climate change suggests that technical solutions that promote greater energy efficiency are the primary means to address emissions. However, absolute emission reductions are unlikely, as growth in transport volumes and infrastructure outweighs efficiency gains (Scott et al., 2010), and potentially large rebound effects (Arvesen et al., 2011; Santarius, 2012) have not been accounted for in the tourism sector. The IEA (2009) suggest that the technical capacity to reduce the energy intensity of new aircraft is equivalent to 0.6–1.0% per year on average and that the annual historical rate of improvement in load factors (approximately 0.2% per year) could reach close to its upper limit by 2025. The reliance on biofuel as a technological solution remains problematic because of uncertainties over full life-cycle emission benefits and land-use requirements that put energy and food crops in conflict (UNEP, 2009; Vera-Morales and Schäfer, 2009). Even if breakthrough energy technology and sources do become available, this does not mean that ‘old’ carbon-intensive energy sources will stop being used. Instead, they will probably run in parallel as investment costs in such technologies are paid off (Hoffmann, 2011).

The industry position is thus questionable not only from a scientific viewpoint but from an ethical perspective as well, as it postpones action on the basis of highly uncertain technology futures; it also omits the fact that, in current ‘sustainable’ green growth strategies, the significance of rebound effects is unconsidered, i.e. energy consumption will grow as a result of lower prices (Arvesen et al., 2011; Santarius, 2012). Rebound effects do not appear to have been considered in any forecasts of potential efficiency gains in the tourism industry or in IPCC reports (Jenkins et al., 2011). No studies have been conducted on rebound effects specifically in relation to tourism, although Sorrell (2007) observed that increased consumption of air travel and tourism would potentially be driven by increases in macroeconomic efficiency gains, while Hall (2009, 2010b) cautioned as to the impacts of an efficiency focus in relation to sustainable tourism consumption. Barker et al. (2009) modelled the rebound effects resulting from the global energy efficiency measures incorporated into the IPCC's (2007) Fourth Assessment Report and estimated that for transport there would be a worldwide direct rebound of 9.1% in 2020 and 9.1% in 2030, and a macroeconomic rebound of 26.9% in 2020 and 43.1% in 2030, thus leading to a total economy wide rebound of 36.0% in 2020 and 52.2% in 2030. This compares with an estimated rebound for all sectors of 31% of the projected energy savings potential by 2020, rising to 52% by 2030 (Barker et al., 2009). If this scale of rebound were applied to tourism then, even allowing for the estimated greater use of low-carbon fuels, the potential increase in tourism related emissions would likely be over 200% by 2030.


  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References

Despite the challenges faced by increasing absolute emissions from the various sectors of the tourism industry, the notion of green growth has now become an integral component of industry discourse on tourism and sustainability (Cabrini, 2012; UNWTO and UNEP, 2011). Nevertheless, the optimism of such a growth paradigm based on material/resource/energy efficiency, major changes in the energy mix to renewables and continued increases in visitor numbers is extremely problematic given constraints of arithmetic of growth and efficiency limits, governance and market limits, and systemic limits (Hoffmann, 2011). Climate change provides an even greater challenge to sustainable green growth, because not only are absolute reductions in emissions going to be difficult to achieve but its effects will potentially cancel the supposed benefits of the pursuit of international tourism in many cases.

In 2009 the GHF (2009, p. 1) reported that climate change already leaves over 300 000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected and economic losses of US$125 billion (more than all the present world aid). Four billion people are regarded as vulnerable to climate change, and 500 million people are at extreme risk. Given that the tourism sector has already acknowledged it contributes approximately 5% of global CO2 (UNWTO and UNEP, 2008; WEF, 2009b) this means that in proportional terms in 2009 tourism emissions were already responsible for about 15 000 deaths, seriously affecting 8.25 million people, and producing economic losses of US$6.25 billion. Tourism is promoted as a poverty reduction strategy in the less developed world, yet, according to the estimates of GHF (2009), the economic losses from climate change in the developing world were already greater than the US$5.42 billion of tourism expenditures in the 49 LDCs (Hall, 2010b).

The continued growth of tourism at current predicted rates will lead to substantial absolute increases in CO2 emissions. However, the effects of climate change as well as the capacity to adapt, along with any benefits from tourism, are not evenly distributed. LDCs, the very countries that are meant to be benefitting most from aviation-based international tourism, are generally the ones most vulnerable to climate change (Ahmed et al., 2009; DARA, 2012; Stanton et al., 2011; UNFCCC, 2008). Major tourism and travel bodies have not yet recognized the paradox of this situation, and continue to promote tourism development that relies on continued long-haul visitor growth. Policies that promote more sustainable forms of tourism consumption, such as encouraging domestic tourism, together with a focus on income distribution and welfare issues at destinations, as part of long-term development strategies are not sufficiently considered (Zapata et al., 2011).

The effects of climate change will have far-reaching impacts on the tourism system and destinations (Scott et al., 2012b), as well as the theory and practice of sustainable development. Tourists have the greatest capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change, with relative freedom to avoid affected destinations. The regional manifestations of climate change will generate both negative and positive impacts in the tourism sector and will vary substantially by market segment and geographic region (Scott et al., 2012a). Despite adopting the rhetoric of sustainability, tourism policies almost universally follow pro-growth paradigms, where annual visitor growth that results in absolute emission increases is considered an indicator of success and a proxy for wealth transfer to poor local populations. In the light of the discussion presented here, there is urgent reason to reconsider such strategies and develop tourism systems with a stronger focus on energy use and emission avoidance. Organizations that advocate tourism as a sustainable development mechanism need to develop a greater understanding of the implications of climate change for the sustainability of tourism destination markets, products and services. It is also incumbent on these organizations to develop defensible plans to demonstrate how emission reductions, consistent with their pronounced ‘aspirational’ or ‘visionary’ targets, can be achieved. These plans should also include precautionary principles with regard to technological progress and alternative pathways to success. Until such time, it is difficult to consider many forms of international tourism sustainable.


  1. Top of page
  3. Introduction
  4. Tourism and Development
  5. Tourism and Climate Change
  6. Restricting Tourism's Contribution to Climate Change
  7. Conclusions
  8. References
  • Ahmed SA, Diffenbaugh NS, Hertel TW. 2009. Climate volatility deepens poverty vulnerability in developing countries. Environmental Research Letters 4: 034004. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/3/034004
  • Airbus. 2012. Global Market Forecast 2012–2031. [23 November 2012].
  • Ares E. 2012. EU ETS and Aviation, Standard Note SN.SC/5533. House of Commons Library: London, UK.
  • Arvesen A, Bright RM, Hertwich EG. 2011. Considering only first-order effects? How simplifications lead to unrealistic technology optimism in climate change mitigation. Energy Policy 39: 74487454. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2011.09.013
  • Barr, T. Dagoumas, A. Rubin. J. 2009. The macroeconomic rebound effect and the world economy. Energy Efficiency, 18(4): 411427. DOI: 10.1007/s12053-009-9053-y
  • Barker S, Shaw G, Coles T, Prillwitz J. 2010. 'A holiday is a holiday': practicing sustainability, home and away. Journal of Transport Geography 18: 474481. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2009.08.007
  • Blake A. 2008. Tourism and income distribution in East Africa. International Journal of Tourism Research 10: 511524. DOI: 10.1002/jtr.702
  • Blake A, Arbache JS, Sinclair MT, Teles V. 2008. Tourism and poverty relief. Annals of Tourism Research 35: 107126. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2007.06.013
  • Boeing. 2012. Current Market Outlook 2012–2031. [23 October 2012].
  • Bramwell B, Lane B 2012. Towards innovation in sustainable tourism research? Journal of Sustainable Tourism 20: 17.
  • Cabrini L. 2012. Tourism in the UN Green Economy Report. In UNWTO High-level Regional Conference on Green Tourism, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2012.…/2012may_chiangmai_lc_0.pdf [14 November 2012].
  • Chok S, Macbeth J, Warren C. 2007. Tourism as a tool for poverty alleviation: a critical analysis of ‘pro-poor tourism’ and implications for sustainability. Current Issues in Tourism 10: 144165. DOI: 10.2167/cit303
  • Cohen, SA, Higham, JES. 2011. Eyes wide shut? UK consumer perceptions on aviation climate impacts and travel decisions to New Zealand. Current Issues in Tourism 14: 323335. DOI: 10.1080/13683501003653387
  • Coles T, Hall CM (eds). 2008. Tourism and International Business. Routledge: London.
  • Cooper C, Hall CM. 2013. Contemporary Tourism: an International Approach, 2nd edn. Oxford: Goodfellow.
  • Daley B. 2009. Is air transport an effective tool for sustainable development? Sustainable Development 17(4): 210219. DOI: 10.1002/sd.383
  • DARA. 2012. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor, 2nd edn. DARA: Madrid. [5 December 2012].
  • de Bruijn K, Dirven R, Eijgelaar E, Peeters P. 2010. Travelling Large in 2008. The Carbon Footprint of Dutch Holidaymakers in 2008 and the Development since 2002. NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, NRIT Research, NBTC–NIPO Research: Breda, The Netherlands.
  • Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. 2012. Energy White Paper 2012, Australia's Energy Transformation. Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism: Canberra.
  • Department of Transport. 2007. Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts. Department of Transport: London.
  • Dwyer L, Forsyth P, Spurr R, Hoque S. 2010. Estimating the carbon footprint of Australian tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18: 355376. DOI: 10.1080/09669580903513061
  • Eijgelaar E, Thaper C, Peeters PM. 2010. Antarctic cruise tourism: the paradoxes of ambassadorship, 'last chance tourism' and greenhouse gas emissions. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18: 337354. DOI: 10.1080/09669581003653534
  • European Commission. 2012. Climate Action. [17 December 2012].
  • European Parliament and Council. 2009. Directive 2008/101/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community, Offocial Journal of the European Union, 13 January 2009, L 8/3-8/21
  • Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF). 2009. The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis. GHF: London.
  • Gössling S, Hall CM (eds). 2006. Tourism and Global Environmental Change. Routledge: London.
  • Gössling S, Hall CM, Peeters P, Scott D. 2010. The future of tourism: can tourism growth and climate policy be reconciled? A climate change mitigation perspective. Tourism Recreation Research 35: 119130.
  • Gössling S, Hall CM, Scott D. 2009. The challenges of tourism as a development strategy in an era of global climate change. In Rethinking Development in a Carbon-Constrained World. Development Cooperation and Climate Change, Palosou E (ed). Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Helsinki; 100119.
  • Gössling S, Peeters P, Scott D. 2008. Consequences of climate policy for international tourist arrivals in developing countries. Third World Quarterly 29: 873901. DOI: 10.1080/01436590802106007
  • Gössling S, Scott D, Hall CM, Ceron J-P, Dubois G. 2012. Consumer behaviour and demand response of tourists to climate change. Annals of Tourism Research 39: 3658. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2011.11.002
  • Hall CM. 2007. Pro-poor tourism: do ‘Tourism exchanges benefit primarily the countries of the South’? Current Issues in Tourism 10: 111118. DOI: 10.1080/13683500708668426
  • Hall CM. 2009. Degrowing tourism: décroissance, sustainable consumption and steady-state tourism. Anatolia: an International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research 20: 4661. DOI: 10.1080/13032917.2009.10518894
  • Hall CM. 2010a. Tourism and the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Journal of Heritage Tourism 5: 267284. DOI: 10.1080/1743873X.2010.517844
  • Hall CM. 2010b. Changing paradigms and global change: from sustainable to steady-state tourism. Tourism Recreation Research 35: 131145.
  • Hall CM. 2011. Policy learning and policy failure in sustainable tourism governance: from first and second to third order change? Journal of Sustainable Tourism 19: 649671. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2011.555555
  • Hall CM, Lew A. 2009. Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: an Integrated Approach. Routledge: London.
  • Hawkins DE, Mann S. 2007. The World Bank's role in tourism development. Annals of Tourism Research 34: 348363. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2006.10.004
  • Hoffmann U. 2011. Some Reflections on Climate Change, Green Growth Illusions and Development Space, UNCTAD Discussion Paper 205. UNCTAD: Geneva.
  • IATA. 2009. The IATA Technology Roadmap Report. IATA: Montreal.
  • IATA. 2012. What are the policy makers doing?. Available at: (Accessed October 31, 2012).
  • ICAO. 1997. Kyoto Protocol emphasizes ICAO's role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation. News Release, 12 December, (accessed 1 April 2012).
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). 2009. A Global Sectoral Approach for Aviation, working paper. ICAO: Montreal.
  • International Energy Agency (IEA). 2009. Transport, Energy and CO2: Moving Towards Sustainability. IEA: Paris. (Accessed 1 November 2012)
  • International Maritime Organization (IMO). 2009. Climate Change: a Challenge for IMO Too! IMO: London.
  • Jenkins, J. Nordhaus, T. Shellenberger, M. 2011. Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena. Breakthrough Institute: California.
  • Jotzo F. 2010. Comparing the Copenhagen Emissions Targets, CCEP Working Paper. Centre for Climate Economics & Policy, Crawford School of Economics and Government, The Australian National University: Canberra, ACT, Australia.
  • Kok M, Metz B, Verhagen J, van Rooijen S. 2008. Integrating development and climate policies: national and international benefits. Climate Policy 8: 103118.
  • Lyle C. 2011. Aviation and Climate Change; What Now For a Global Approach. [5 December 2012].
  • Mayor K, Tol R. 2010. The impact of European climate change regulations on international tourist markets. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 15: 2636.
  • McKercher B, Prideaux B, Cheung C, Law R. 2010. Achieving voluntary reductions in the carbon footprint of tourism and climate change. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18: 297318.
  • Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 2011. Sustainable Tourism Development and Climate Change: Issues and Policies. OECD: Paris.
  • Owens B, Lee DS, Lim L. 2010. Flying into the future: aviation emissions scenarios to 2050. Environmental Science and Technology 44: 22552260. DOI: 10.1021/es902530z
  • Peeters P, Gössling S, Becken S. 2007. Innovation towards tourism sustainability: climate change and aviation. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development 1: 184200.
  • Peeters P, Gössling S, Lane B. 2009. Moving towards low-carbon tourism: new opportunities for destinations and tour operators. In Sustainable Tourism Futures: Perspectives on Systems, Restructuring and Innovations, Gössling S, Hall CM, Weaver D (eds). Routledge: London; 240257.
  • Perch-Nielsen S, Sesartic A, Stucki M. 2010. The greenhouse gas intensity of the tourism sector: the case of Switzerland. Environmental Science and Policy 13: 131140. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2009.12.002
  • Saarinen J. 2006. Traditions of sustainability in tourism studies. Annals of Tourism Research 33: 11211140. DOI: 10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007
  • Santarius T. 2012. Green Growth Unravelled – How Rebound Effects Baffle Sustainability Targets When the Economy Keeps Growing. Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. (Accessed November 1, 2012).
  • Schilcher D. 2007. Growth versus equity: the continuum of pro-poor tourism and neoliberal governance. Current Issues in Tourism 10: 166193. DOI: 10.2167/cit304.0
  • Scott D, Amelung B, Becken S, Ceron J-P, Dubois G, Gössling S, Peeters P, Simpson M. 2008. Technical report. In Climate Change and Tourism: Responding to Global Challenges. UNWTO: Madrid; UNEP: Paris; WMO: Geneva; 23–250.
  • Scott D, Gössling S, Hall CM. 2012a. International tourism and climate change. WIRES Climate Change 3(3). DOI: 10.1002/wcc.165
  • Scott D, Gössling S, Hall CM. 2012b. Tourism and Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Mitigation. Routledge: Abingdon, UK.
  • Scott D, Peeters P, Gössling S. 2010. Can tourism deliver its ‘aspirational’ emission reduction targets? Journal of Sustainable Tourism 18: 393408. DOI: 10.1080/09669581003653542
  • Smith IJ, Rodger CJ. 2009. Carbon emission offsets for aviation-generated emissions due to international travel to and from New Zealand. Energy Policy 37: 34383447. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2008.10.046
  • Sorrell S. 2007. The Rebound Effect: an Assessment of the Evidence for Economy-Wide Energy Savings from Improved Energy Efficiency. UK Energy Research Centre: London.
  • Stanton E, Cegan J, Bueno R, Ackerman F. 2011. Estimating Regions’ Relative Vulnerability to Climate Damages in the CRED Model. Stockholm Environment Institute: Somerville, Massachusetts, USA.
  • Su Y-P, Hall CM, Ozanne L. 2012. Hospitality industry responses to climate change: a benchmark study of Taiwanese tourist hotels. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research. 18: 92107. DOI: 10.1080/10941665.2012.688513
  • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 2004. Beyond Conventional Wisdom in Development Policy: an Intellectual History of UNCTAD 1964–2004, UNCTAD/EDM/2004/4. United Nations: New York.
  • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). 2010. The Contribution of Tourism to Trade and Development, note by the UNCTAD secretariat TD/B/C.I/8. UNCTAD: Geneva.
  • United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 2009. Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels. UNEP: Paris.
  • United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2005. Making Tourism More Sustainable: a Guide for Policy Makers. UNEP: Paris.
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 2008. Physical and Socio-economic Trends in Climate-Related Risks and Extreme Events, and their Implications for Sustainable Development, Technical Paper FCCC/TP/2008/3. UNFCCC: Geneva.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2006. Report of the World Tourism Organization to the United Nations Secretary-General in Preparation for the High Level Meeting on the Mid-Term Comprehensive Global Review of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001–2010. UNWTO: Madrid.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2007. Tourism will Contribute to Solutions for Global Climate Change and Poverty Challenges, press release. UNWTO: Madrid.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2011. Tourism Towards 2030: Global Overview. UNWTO General Assembly, 19th session, Gyeongju, Republic of Korea, 2011. UNWTO: Madrid.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). 2012. UNWTO Tourism Highlights. 2012 Edition. UNWTO: Madrid.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 2011. Tourism: investing in the green economy. In Towards a Green Economy. UNEP: Geneva; 409447.
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 2008. Climate Change and Tourism: Responding to Global Challenges. UNWTO: Madrid–UNEP: Paris–WMO: Geneva.
  • UNWTO. 2002. Tourism and poverty alleviation. UNWTO: Madrid, Spain.
  • UNWTO. 2007. Tourism will Contribute to Solutions for Global Climate Change and Poverty Challenges. Press release, UNWTO Press and Communications Department, March 8,. UNWTO: Madrid, Spain.
  • Vera-Morales M, Schäfer A. 2009. Final Report: Fuel-Cycle Assessment of Alternative Aviation Fuels. University of Cambridge, Institute for Aviation and the Environment: Cambridge.
  • Walker S, Cook M. 2009. The contested concept of sustainable aviation. Sustainable Development 17(6): 378390. DOI: 10.1002/sd.400
  • Wattanakuljarus A, Coxhead I. 2008. Is tourism-based development good for the poor? A general equilibrium analysis for Thailand. Journal of Policy Modelling 30: 929955. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpolmod.2008.02.006
  • World Economic Forum (WEF). 2009a. Towards a Low Carbon Travel and Tourism Sector. WEF: Davos, Switzerland.
  • World Economic Forum (WEF). 2009b. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009: Managing in a Time of Turbulence. WEF: Davos, Switzerland.
  • World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). 2003. Blueprint for New Tourism. WTTC: London.
  • World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). 2004. The Caribbean. In The Impact of Travel and Tourism on Jobs and the Economy. WTTC: London.
  • World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). 2009. Leading the Challenge on Climate Change. WTTC: London.
  • Zapata MJ, Hall CM, Lindo P, Vanderschaeghen M. 2011. Can community-based tourism contribute to development and poverty alleviation? Current Issues in Tourism 14: 725749. DOI: 10.1080/13683500.2011.559200