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The carbon footprint of global tourism

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Tourism contributes significantly to global gross domestic product, and is forecast to grow at an annual 4%, thus outpacing many other economic sectors. However, global carbon emissions related to tourism are currently not well quantified. Here, we quantify tourism-related global carbon flows between 160 countries, and their carbon footprints under origin and destination accounting perspectives. We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology. We project that, due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
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1ISA, School of Physics A28, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. 2Department of Transportation & Communication
Management Science, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan City, Taiwan, Republic of China. 3UQ Business School, The University of Queensland,
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. 4Fiscal Policy Agency, Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia. 5Sydney Business School,
The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. *e-mail:
Global tourism is a trillion-dollar industry, representing in the
order of 7% of global exports and contributing significantly
to global gross domestic product (GDP)1. International arriv-
als and tourism receipts have been growing at an annual 3–5%, out-
pacing the growth of international trade, and in 2016 exceeded 1
billion and US$1.2 trillion, respectively1,2. Clearly, economic activity
at this scale has a significant impact on the environment3. In par-
ticular transport, a key ingredient of travel, is an energy- and car-
bon-intensive commodity, rendering tourism a potentially potent
contributor to climate change. The sensitivity and vulnerability of
destinations (such as winter- and coastal-recreation locations) to
weather and climate change also suggest that, as a result of climate
change, the tourism industry will in turn undergo drastic future
change and will need to adapt to increasing risk4. Given future pro-
jections of an unabated 4% growth beyond 20251,2, the continuous
monitoring and analysis of carbon emissions associated with tour-
ism is becoming more pressing.
By definition, the carbon footprint of tourism should include
the carbon emitted directly during tourism activities (for example,
combustion of petrol in vehicles) as well as the carbon embodied in
the commodities purchased by tourists (for example, food, accom-
modation, transport, fuel and shopping; Supplementary Section 1).
Tourism carbon footprints therefore need to be evaluated using
methods that cover the life cycle or supply chain emissions of
tourism-related goods and services (Supplementary Section 1).
Life-cycle assessment57 and input–output analysis814 have been
used to quantify the carbon footprint of specific aspects of tour-
ism operations such as hotels5, events6 and transportation infra-
structure7,15, and in particular countries (or regions thereof) such
as Spain5,10,11, the UK8, Taiwan9, China15, Saudi Arabia6, Brazil7,
Iceland14, Australia13 and New Zealand12.
Previous estimates of global CO2 emissions from selected tour-
ism sectors give values of 1.3 and 1.17 GtCO2 for 200516,17 and 1.12 Gt
for 201018, amounting to about 2.5–3% of global CO2-equivalent
(CO2e) emissions. However, these analyses do not cover the sup-
ply chains underpinning tourism, and do not therefore represent
true carbon footprints. A WTO–UNEP–WMO report16 states that
(p. 134) ‘[t]aking into account all lifecycle and indirect energy needs
related to tourism, it is expected that the sum of emissions would be
higher, although there are no specific data for global tourism avail-
able’. Similarly, Gössling and Peeters18 state that (p. 642) “ a more
complete analysis of the energy needed to maintain the tourism
system would also have to include food and beverages, infrastruc-
ture construction and maintenance, as well as retail and services, all
of these on the basis of a life cycle perspective accounting for the
energy embodied in the goods and services consumed in tourism.
However, no database exists for these and the estimate thus must be
considered conservative.
This work fills an important knowledge gap by offering a com-
prehensive calculation of the carbon footprint of global tourism.
We source the most detailed compendium of tourism satellite
accounts (TSAs) available so far (55 countries with individual
TSAs and 105 countries with United Nations World Tourism
Organization (UNWTO) data; Supplementary Sections 2.2 and
3.1.2), integrate this into a comprehensive global multi-region
input–output (MRIO) database (Supplementary Section 2.5), and
use Leontiefs standard model (Section ‘Input-output analysis’) to
establish carbon footprint estimates that cover both the direct and
indirect, supply chain contributions of tourist activities. In addi-
tion, we advance current knowledge by (1) including not only
emissions of CO2 but also those of CH4, N2O, hydrofluorocarbons
(HFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), SF6 and NF3 (Supplementary
Section 3.2), (2) presenting an annual carbon footprint time series
from 2009 to 2013, (3) analysing drivers of change, (4) providing
details about carbon-intensive supply chains, and (5) comparing
two accounting perspectives.
The two accounting perspectives mentioned in the final point
(5) are residence-based accounting (RBA) and destination-based
accounting (DBA). Both perspectives are variants of the well-
known consumption-based accounting principle19; however, while
RBA allocates consumption-based emissions to the tourist’s coun-
try of residence, DBA allocates them to the tourists destination
country13. The two perspectives serve clear and distinct purposes.
RBA can shed light on the determinants of travel choices, such as
The carbon footprint of global tourism
Manfred Lenzen 1, Ya-Yen Sun2,3, Futu Faturay 1,4, Yuan-Peng Ting2, Arne Geschke 1 and
Arunima Malik 1,5*
Tourism contributes significantly to global gross domestic product, and is forecast to grow at an annual 4%, thus outpacing
many other economic sectors. However, global carbon emissions related to tourism are currently not well quantified. Here,
we quantify tourism-related global carbon flows between 160 countries, and their carbon footprints under origin and destina-
tion accounting perspectives. We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from
3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income coun-
tries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.
We project that, due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s
greenhouse gas emissions.
Correction: Author Correction
© 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.
NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE | VOL 8 | JUNE 2018 | 522–528 |
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved
... Certainly, tourism's prominent contribution to national and global GDP cannot be understated. Equally significant is its influence on the carbon footprint, emphasizing the sector's intricate relationship with environmental sustainability (Lenzen et al. 2018). However, it is a sector that has a particular impact on water resources, due to the significant water demand generated by tourism, especially in the hotel sector. ...
... Several researchers have also explored the intricate relationship between tourism and its consequent environmental ramifications (Scott et al. 2012). The adoption of the carbon footprint as a metric to quantify climate change implications has gained traction in academia (Rosselló-Nadal 2014; Puig et al. 2017;Lenzen et al. 2018), and its application extends to assessing the environmental footprint of hotel swimming pools (Rico et al. 2019;Sun et al. 2020). The tourism sector is constantly improving and the innovation in this sector is correlated with sustainability (Smerecnik and Andersen 2011). ...
... Tourism accounts for an estimated 8% of global carbon emissions (Lenzen et al. 2018). The hospitality sector is increasingly exhibiting a laudable commitment to reducing its environmental imprint. ...
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The aim of this research is to critically evaluate the environmental implications of public pools in Costa Brava hotels, with a focus on their impact in terms of energy, water, and carbon footprint. The methodology employed hinges on the characterization of the stock of pools installed in the hotels of the region. Following this characterization, calculations were undertaken regarding water and energy consumption, in addition to the computation of the equivalent carbon footprint for the entirety of the pools combined. The findings of the study reveal an annual energy consumption of 1,850.2 MWh/year and an annual water evaporation consumption of 50,105 m³/year. As a result, the carbon footprint corresponding to these consumptions is 481.8 tCO2 eq./year. Identified areas of improvement within the facilities encompassed the modernization of equipment towards more contemporary models with higher efficiencies, the adoption of holistic management approaches for pools, and the utilization of emerging modelling trends to enhance facility efficiency. Conclusions drawn from the research suggest that enhancing the sustainability of pools within the Costa Brava hospitality sector holds significant societal relevance, especially when considering the heightened water stress in Mediterranean climate zones during the peak tourist season. Improving the energy efficiency of these facilities not only contributes to environmental sustainability, but also cuts operational costs, allowing establishments to have more room to channel more resources towards their main hospitality tasks. Highlights Tourism is vital in global, Spanish, Catalan GDP and an environmental impact key. Costa Brava hotel pools use 1,850 MWh/year, 50,105 m³ water/year, emit 482 tCO2/year. Modern equipment, management, and modelling trends enhance pool sustainability. Efficient pools cut costs, aid environment, free resources for hospitality. Tourism's future relies on holistic sustainability; efforts and policies are vital.
... Tourism is an emission-intense economic sector that makes considerable contributions to global warming (Lenzen et al., 2018). High growth rates and interrelated technology-cost barriers for aviation and cruises make tourism particularly difficult to decarbonize . ...
... Tourism is responsible for 8% of global warming in 2013, or an estimated 2.9 Gt CO 2 per year (scope 1-2; Lenzen et al., 2018). Even if tourism manages to stabilize its emissions under continued growth scenarios, it would deplete its "share" of the global carbon budget for the more desirable 1.5 • C goal (40 Gt CO 2 ) in less than ten years . ...
... Tourism consumption has important roles in high per capita emissions (Barros & Wilk, 2021). In tourism, emission intensities have been calculated to understand climate implications of value generation at the global level, also in comparison to other economic sectors (Lenzen et al., 2018); to assess differences in the carbon-intensity of destinations (Gössling et al., 2005); or to evaluate tourism emissions, and in relation to other national economic sectors. These latter studies have been carried out for China (Meng et al., 2016), New Zealand (Sun & Higham, 2021), Norway (Sun et al., 2022), Portugal (Robaina-Alves et al., 2016, Spain (Cadarso et al., 2015), or Taiwan (Sun, 2016). ...
... From a global point of view, a relevant discussion is the contribution that the tourism activity has made to increase the carbon footprint. This has largely been brought about by air transport, especially since the emergence of low-cost airlines, which has been held responsible for between 5% and 14% of global warming generated by human emissions (Becken, 2002;Lenzen et al., 2018;UNWTO, 2008). ...
One of the justifications for promoting tourism development is the capacity that it has to generate spillover effects on traditional economic activities. However, the strength of these spillover effects depends, largely, on the complementary or competitive nature of the traditional sector with respect to the resources used by tourism. Using time series analysis techniques, this paper examines the relationship existing between tourism development and the local fisheries sector. The results suggest that fisheries have been benefiting from growth in tourism, not so much in terms of an increase in the volume of catches but rather due to an increase in their value.
... Betta et al. (2021) vans, caravans, and camper vans from tourists mainly influence emissions from tourists in Italy; which was found to be the same in Durbarry and Seetanah's (2015) study of vehicle transport emissions from tourism activities in Mauritius. Similar conclusions have been made by several studies such as (Lenzen et al., 2018;Waked and Afif, 2012). Air travel is also another proxy that has been widely used in the tourism-led EKC and the negative effect of air transport emissions on the environment has been confirmed (e.g. ...
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According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), tourism is critical to a country's economic development. It acts as a catalyst for direct and indirect job creation, economic growth, and the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI). To this end, the present study looks into the relationship between economic growth (GDP), domestic credit (DC), tourism (TR), FDI, and CO2 emissions for selected Mediterranean countries. This study employs panel corrected standard errors (PCSE) and dynamic ordinary least squares (DOLS) approaches to assure the trustworthiness of the findings. The empirical information gathered supports the idea that tourism adds to pollution in the analyzed blocs. Furthermore, the data supports the pollution haven hypothesis concept by demonstrating that an increase in FDI harms the environment. The study's findings advocate for precautionary actions to alleviate the detrimental effects of tourism-related pollution. Ecotourism policies that support sustainable behaviors must be developed and implemented. Countries can establish a balance between economic growth and environmental protection by implementing such policies. Governments, policymakers, and stakeholders must work together to create effective frameworks and policies that promote responsible tourism. This research fills a knowledge vacuum by shedding light on the specific dynamics of Mediterranean tourism businesses. Economic growth, domestic credit, tourism, FDI, and CO2 emissions are all linked, according to empirical research. The findings highlight the importance of establishing ecotourism legislation and constructing sustainable infrastructure to reduce tourism's negative environmental impacts. Countries may safeguard the long-term viability of their tourism businesses by finding a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.
... The tourism sector in general accounts for 8% of total global emissions, with travel emissions contributing the largest portion (23%) to total emissions (Lenzen et al., 2018). Hence, sport tourism in terms of travel to sport vacations, sport events, and league games also yields negative climate externalities (McCullough et al., 2019). ...
Drawing on a rational choice framework, this study investigates fans’ stated preferences for (more) environmentally-friendly stadium travel (bicycles/e-scooters) on game days. Data from fans of a German Football Bundesliga club were collected using an online survey in 2021 ( n = 1,652). Travel preferences were assessed using the contingent behavior method. The results of regression analyses indicate that the likelihood of using environmentally-friendly transportation means increases with perceived benefits, while perceived costs decrease this likelihood. Specifically, perceived environmental benefits and being an environmental role model had a positive effect, while monetary, convenience, and time-related costs had a negative effect.
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Çağımızın en önemli küresel sorunlarından biri haline gelen iklim değişikliği, pek çok sektörde olduğu gibi turizm sektörü üzerinde de hem etkisini göstermekte hem de sektöre bağlı gerçekleşen faaliyetlerden etkilenmektedir. Turizm sektörü ile iklim değişikliği arasındaki bu iki yönlü ilişki turizm literatüründe sosyal, ekonomik ve ekolojik açıdan da tartışılmaktadır. Bilimsel çalışmaların yanı sıra iklim değişikliği konusunda toplumsal bir farkındalığın oluşması da önem arz etmektedir. Kitle iletişim araçları ise bu farkındalığın oluşmasında önemli bir rol oynamaktadır. Bu bağlamda çalışmanın amacı, kitle iletişim araçlarından biri olan gazetelerde turizm ve iklim değişikliğine ilişkin haberleri incelemektir. Araştırmanın amacı doğrultusunda Türkiye'de en yüksek tiraja sahip 10 gazetenin internet siteleri üzerinden 2022 yılı 15 Ağustos-15 Eylül tarihleri arasında iklim değişikliği ve turizme ilişkin içeriklere sahip haberler incelenmiştir. Erişilen 187 haber metni üzerinde karma içerik analizi yapılmıştır. Sonuçlar, doğrudan iklim değişikliği ve turizm ile ilgili sınırlı sayıda haber (13 haber) olduğunu göstermiştir. İklim değişikliği ile ilgili haberlerin ise daha çok kuraklık, orman yangınları, biyoçeşitlilik kaybı gibi iklim değişikliğinin genel etkileri, iklim değişikliğinin insan ve diğer canlı türleri üzerindeki etkileri ve sıcaklık artışı kapsamında ele alındığı tespit edilmiştir. Turizm ve iklim değişikliğini bir arada ele alan sınırlı sayıda haber metni, iklim değişikliğinin genel etkilerine ilişkin haberlerle içerik olarak paralellik göstermiştir.
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The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by tourism have been studied from several perspectives, but few studies exist that include all direct and indirect emissions, particularly those from aviation. In this study, an input/output-based hybrid life-cycle assessment (LCA) method is developed to assess the consumption-based carbon footprint of the average tourist including direct and indirect emissions. The total inbound tourism-related GHG emissions are also calculated within a certain region. As a demonstration of the method, the full carbon footprint of an average tourist is assessed as well as the total GHG emissions induced by tourism to Iceland over the period of 2010-2015, with the presented approach applicable in other contexts as well. Iceland provides an interesting case due to three features: (1) the tourism sector in Iceland is the fastest-growing industry in the country with an annual growth rate of over 20% over the past five years; (2) almost all tourists arrive by air; and (3) the country has an almost emissions-free energy industry and an import-dominated economy, which emphasise the role of the indirect emissions. According to the assessment, the carbon footprint for the average tourist is 1.35 tons of CO2-eq, but ranges from 1.1 to 3.2 tons of CO2-eq depending on the distance travelled by air. Furthermore, this footprint is increasing due to the rise in average flight distances travelled to reach the country. The total GHG emissions caused by tourism in Iceland have tripled from approximately 600,000 tons of CO2-eq in 2010 to 1,800,000 tons in 2015. Aviation accounts for 50%-82% of this impact (depending on the flight distance) underlining the importance of air travel, especially as tourism-related aviation is forecasted to grow significantly in the near future. From a method perspective, the carbon footprinting application presented in the study would seem to provide an efficient way to study both the direct and indirect emissions and to provide new insights and information to enable the development of appropriate GHG mitigation policies in the tourism sector..
Mitigating tourism's emissions, in particular related to transportation is critical, to achieve the broader national emission reduction targets in developing countries. To gain a better understanding of the carbon emissions related to one of Chinese top destinations, and assess changes over time, this article analyses the travel patterns of both domestic and international visitors to Zhangjiajie, Hunan province. Two points in time are examined, namely 2009 and 2015. The results show that despite some contraction towards closer and shorter trips, the overall growth (a near doubling in arrivals) led to a substantial increase in carbon emissions. The increasing role of the private car and high-speed rail has been noted in particular. The average transportation carbon footprint of visitors to Zhangjiajie changed from 94.55 kg CO2 in 2009 to 82.97 kg in 2015 per trip, and 18.87 kg in 2009 to 16.46 kg in 2015 per visitor day.
We describe the creation of the Global Multi-Region Input–Output (MRIO) Lab, which is a cloud-computing platform offering a collab-orative research environment through which participants can use each other's resources to assemble their own individual MRIO versions. The Global MRIO Lab's main purpose is to harness and focus previously disparate resources aimed at compiling large-scale MRIO databases that provide comprehensive representations of interregional trade, economic structure, industrial interdependence, as well as environmental and social impact. Based on the operational Australian Industrial Ecology Lab, a particularly important feature of this cloud environment is a highly detailed regional and sectoral taxon-omy called the 'root classification'. The purpose of this root is to serve as a feedstock from which researchers can choose any combination of regions and economic sectors to form a model of the economy that is suitable to address their particular research questions. Thus, the Global MRIO Lab concept enables enhanced flexibility in MRIO database construction whilst at the same time saving resources and avoiding duplication, by sharing time-and labour-intensive tasks amongst multiple research teams. We explain the concept, architecture , development and preliminary results of the Global MRIO Lab, and discuss its ability to continuously deliver some of the most prominent world MRIO databases.
Tourism is a key industry in the Spanish economy. Spain was in the World top three ranking by international tourist arrivals and by income in 2015. The development of the tourism industry is essential to maintain the established economic system. However, if the environmental requirements were not taken into account, the country would face a negative effect on depletion of local environmental resources from which tourism depends. This case study evaluates, through a life cycle perspective, the average carbon footprint of an overnight stay in a Spanish coastland hotel by analyzing 14 two-to-five-stars hotels. Inventory and impact data are analyzed and presented both for resource use and greenhouse gases emissions, with the intention of helping in the environmental decision-making process. The main identified potential hotspots are electricity and fuels consumption (6 to 30 kWh/overnight stay and 24 to 127 MJ/overnight stay respectively), which are proportional to the number of stars and unoccupancy rate and they produce more than 75% of the impact. It is also revealed that voluntary implementation of environmental monitoring systems (like EMAS regulation) promotes collection of more detailed and accurate data, which helps in a more efficient use of resources. A literature review on LCA and tourism is also discussed. Spanish hotels inventory data presented here for the first time will be useful for tourism related managers (destination managers, policy makers and hotel managers among others) to calculate sustainability key indicators, which can lead to achieve real sustainable-tourism goals. Further data collection will be needed in future projects to gather representative data from more hotels, other accommodation facilities and also other products/services offered by tourist sector in Spain (like transport of tourists, food and beverage, culturesports & recreation and others).
Millions of people die every year from diseases caused by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Some studies have estimated premature mortality related to local sources of air pollution but local air quality can also be affected by atmospheric transport of pollution from distant sources. International trade is contributing to the globalization of emission and pollution as a result of the production of goods (and their associated emissions) in one region for consumption in another region. The effects of international trade on air pollutant emissions, air quality and health have been investigated regionally, but a combined, global assessment of the health impacts related to international trade and the transport of atmospheric air pollution is lacking. Here we combine four global models to estimate premature mortality caused by fine particulate matter (PM_(2.5)) pollution as a result of atmospheric transport and the production and consumption of goods and services in different world regions. We find that, of the 3.45 million premature deaths related to PM_(2.5) pollution in 2007 worldwide, about 12 per cent (411,100 deaths) were related to air pollutants emitted in a region of the world other than that in which the death occurred, and about 22 per cent (762,400 deaths) were associated with goods and services produced in one region for consumption in another. For example, PM_(2.5) pollution produced in China in 2007 is linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in regions other than China, including more than 3,100 premature deaths in western Europe and the USA; on the other hand, consumption in western Europe and the USA is linked to more than 108,600 premature deaths in China. Our results reveal that the transboundary health impacts of PM_(2.5) pollution associated with international trade are greater than those associated with long-distance atmospheric pollutant transport.
This paper analyses the influence of source-destination proximity on the relationship between three key determinants of foreign tourist arrival and inbound international tourist volume in India. The data have been collected for top 11 source countries for a period of 1992–2013. By classifying source countries based on the air travel duration to the destination, three different clusters emerge. To analyze the data, panel modeling is used with a dependent variable having negative binomial distribution. The results of the overall panel modeling reveal that while Gross National Income (GNI) and Previous Year Arrival (PYA) are significant influence on inbound tourism demand but Relative Destination Price (RDP) is not. Further, the results show that for cluster 1 (nearby countries), only PYA is a significant influence; for cluster 2, PYA and GNI are significant; and for cluster 3, all three factors are significant. The findings have important implications for International Tourism Policy and Destination Marketing Programs.