The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The year is an opportunity to look at how tourism is affected by climate change and how emissions from the sector can be curbed, along with finding ways for the industry to better adapt to the inevitable impacts of rising global average temperatures.
More than one billion international tourists meanwhile travel the world each year, which means that tourism provides millions of jobs and is crucial for national and local economies, not least in the developing world.
More than many other industries, tourism relies on a stable climate, and is already being impacted by increased incidents of storms and heatwaves, desertification, fresh water loss, rising sea levels that threaten coastal resorts, and diminished snowfall in alpine skiing areas.
The UN's World Tourism Organization estimates that tourism is responsible of about 5% of global CO2 emissions. Accommodation accounts for approximately 20% of emissions from tourism. This involves heating, air-conditioning and the maintenance of bars, restaurants and pools.
The transport sector, including air, car and rail, generates the largest proportion, with 75% of all emissions. Part of the emissions from transport can be avoided by choosing the most sustainable form of transport at least for inland travel, which is rail.
Tourist and business travelers, along with companies and organizations, can offset the carbon footprint of their trips by plane or car by purchasing UN-certified offsets provided through the UN's Climate Neutral Now Initiative.
Climate Neutral Now is also active in helping entire sub-sectors of the tourism transport industry, such as airports, measure, reduce and offset and their emissions.
Opening Event on 18 January to Focus on MENA Region
Kicking off the sustainable tourism this year is the International Tourism Fair in Spain (FITUR), taking place on January 18-22 in Madrid.
The fair comprises a number of events organized by the World Tourism Organization including the official presentation of the International Year on January 18.
Also on January 18 is the 13th Edition of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Awards on Innovation and Excellence in Tourism. The awards will commend some of the best examples of sustainable tourism around the world.
In addition to the presentation of the International Year Sustainable Tourism for Development and the awards, more than 20 ministers of tourism from Africa will debate the opportunities that the sector can bring to the continent.
The potential of tourism in the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa) and how to strengthen the resilience of tourism in the region will be also discussed at the fair by ministers.