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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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Articles
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x
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: arunima.malik@sydney.edu.au
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 | www.nature.com/natureclimatechange
522
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