15 May 2018

The true cost of our desire to travel, from flights to souvenirs, has been determined through a comprehensive study that reveals global tourism is a significant and growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The research found the global tourism footprint of tourism-related greenhouse gas emission is four times greater than previous estimates, and is responsible for eight per cent of global emissions.

The University of Queensland Business School researcher Dr Ya-Yen Sun said a re-think about tourism as ‘low-impact’ was crucial.

“Given that tourism is set to grow faster than many other economic sectors, the international community may consider its inclusion in climate commitments, such as the Paris Accord, by tying international flights to specific nations,” she said.

“Carbon taxes or carbon trading schemes – in particular for aviation – may be required to curtail unchecked future growth in tourism-related emissions.”

The study also revealed small islands attract a disproportionate share of carbon emissions through international arrivals, while the United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-generated emissions overall.

The University of Sydney’s Dr Arunima Malik said the complex research took more than a year to complete and incorporated more than one billion supply chains and their impacts on the atmosphere.

“Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism – including consumables such as food from eating out and souvenirs. It’s a complete life-cycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring we don’t miss any impacts,” Dr Malik said.

“This research fills a crucial gap identified by the World Tourism Organization and World Meteorological Organization to quantify, in a comprehensive manner, the world’s tourism footprint.”

University of Sydney lead researcher Professor Manfred Lenzen said the study found air travel was a key contributor to tourism’s footprint.

“The carbon-intensive industry will comprise an increasingly significant proportion of global emissions as growing affluence and technological developments render luxury travel more affordable,” Professor Lenzen said.

The study is published in Nature Climate Change (DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x).

Media: Emma Mackenzie, UQ Business School, e.mackenzie@business.uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 3296; Vivienne Reiner, vivienne.reiner@sydney.edu.au, 0438 021 390.