Undeniable evidences throughout the globe indicate that global climate has changed compared to the pre-industrial era and is expected to continue the trend through 21st century and beyond. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)1 documented that global mean temperature has increased approximately 0.76°C between 1850-1899 and 2001-2005 and it has concluded that most of the observed changes in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is ‘very likely’ the result of human activities that are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
As a consequence, we observe various manifestations of climate change including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns. Widespread decreases in glaciers and ice caps and warming ocean surface temperature have contributed to sea level rise of 1.8 mm per year from 1961 to 2003, and approximately 3.1 mm per year from 1993 to 2003.
The IPCC has projected that the pace of climate change is to accelerate with continued greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at or above the current rates. IPCC best estimate suggested that globally averaged surface temperatures will rise by 1.8°C to 4.0°C by the end of the 21st century. Even with a stabilized atmospheric concentration of GHGs at the current level, the earth would continue to warm as a result of past GHG emissions as well as the thermal inertia of the oceans.
Future changes in temperatures and other important features of climate will manifest themselves in different fashions across various regions of the globe. It is likely that the tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more severe, with greater wind speeds and heavier precipitation. This will be associated with continuing increase of tropical sea surface temperatures. Extra-tropical storm tracks are projected to shift towards the pole, with consequent changes in wind, precipitation and temperature patterns. The decreases in snow cover are also projected to continue.
The environmental and economic risks associated with predictions for climate change are considerable. The gravity of the situation has resulted in various recent international policy debates. The IPCC has come out with firm conclusions that climate change would hinder the ability of several nations to achieve sustainable development. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change found that the present cost reducing GHG emissions is much smaller than the future costs of economic and social disruption due to unmitigated climate change. Every country as well as economic sectors will have to strive with the challenges of climate change through adaptation and mitigation.
Tourism is no exception and in the decades ahead, climate change will play a pivotal role in tourism development and management. With its close links to the environment, tourism is considered to be a highly climate-sensitive sector. The regional manifestations of climate change will be highly relevant for tourism sector that demands adaptation by all major tourism stakeholders. In fact, it is not a remote future for the tourism sector since varied impacts of a changing climate are already evident at destinations around the world.
As a flip side of the above story, tourism sector itself is a major contributor climate change through GHG emissions, especially, from the transport and accommodation of tourists. Tourism sector must play a proactive role to reduce its GHG emissions significantly in harmony with the ‘Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007’ which recognized that global emissions of GHG need to peak in the next 10-15 years and then be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000 by mid-century. The major challenge ahead of tourism sector is to meet the international sustainable development agenda along with managing increased energy use and GHG emissions from massive growth in activities projected for the sector.
The concern of the tourism community regarding the challenge of climate change has visibly increased over the last five years. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and other partner organizations convened the First International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism in Djerba, Tunisia in 2003. The Djerba Declaration recognized the complex inter-linkages between the tourism sector and climate change and established a framework for on adaptation and mitigation. A number of individual tourism industry associations and businesses have also shown great concerns by voluntarily adopting GHG emission reduction targets, engaging in public education campaigns on climate change and supporting government climate change legislation.
Climate determines seasonality in tourism demand and influences the operating costs, such as heating-cooling, snowmaking, irrigation, food and water supply and the likes. Thus, changes in the length and quality of climate-dependent tourism seasons (i.e., sun-and-sea or winter sports holidays) could have considerable implications for competitive relationships between destinations and, therefore, the profitability of tourism enterprises. As a result, the competitive positions of some popular holiday areas are anticipated to decline, whereas other areas are expected to improve.