Climate change is the most pressing issue facing humanity. This week, world leaders are gathering in Glasgow for the make-or-break COP26 talks. Elsewhere, lockdowns are lifting – for instance, Australia is opening its borders. People want to travel again. While this is, of course, good news for tourism businesses everywhere, we need to ensure that future growth is in balance with our planet.
Research published by Nature in 2018 found that tourism contributes 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC’s 2021 report is very clear. We all need to take urgent and strong action, now, to limit the impact of climate change.
So, what can be done? The Paris Agreement rightly stresses the need to find solutions to climate change that do not stymie economic growth and social development.
Tourism is undoubtedly a vital industry for the global economy; one that more than 330 million people rely upon for their livelihood. Pre-pandemic, one in every four new jobs created anywhere on the planet was in tourism.
The tourism industry, it goes without saying, wants to be a part of the solution to dangerous climate change. How could we not? Ours in an industry that celebrates all natural environments – and one that enables people from all corners of the world to visit and experience them in ways that would have been unimaginable for previous generations. But, until now, being part of the solution has been far easier said than done.
That’s because the tourism industry is deeply fragmented, complex and diverse. It cuts across so many other sectors. More than 40 million tourism businesses – or 80 percent of the whole industry – are small or medium sized. They are travel agents, restaurants, or small hotels. They do not have the luxury of dedicated sustainability departments or budgets for related research and development. Much less do they have access to teams of highly paid management consultants who can advise them on ways in which they might lessen their carbon footprint while maintaining their bottom-line.
As a result, to date the industry has – despite good intentions – not yet been able to play a full role in helping to solve the challenge of climate change.
Now, finally, that can change. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, HRH Mohammed bin Salman has announced the creation within the kingdom of the Sustainable Tourism Global Centre (STGC).
The Centre will bring together a multi-country, multi-stakeholder coalition. It will offer best-in-class guidance and expertise to the sector, in order to transform our collective approach to tackling sustainability.
The STGC is exciting because it will act as a meeting place for people from the tourism sector, governments, academia and international organisations – a centre in which together we will be able to learn from the best minds on sustainability, and to share related knowledge and best practice, in order that we can accelerate our collective transition to a net zero future, and by doing so protect nature and support communities.
Critically, it will enable us to make these changes while at the same time providing jobs and driving growth – by stimulating innovation and by delivering knowledge, tools and financing mechanisms.
Saudi Arabia is proud of our leadership role within the global tourism industry. As a kingdom, we take seriously our responsibility to protecting the natural world and to ensuring the environment we pass to future generations is one in which all species can thrive.
The STGC will help us fight climate change as a unified sector - and by doing so will amplify our shared efforts to shoulder our industry-wide responsibility to drive the kind of sustainability progress of which we can all be proud.
H.E. Ahmed Al Khateeb is the Minister of Tourism for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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