The rapid development of the tourism sector causes significant impacts on the environment, in which, carbon emissions in aviation and hospitality is one of the issues that need to be paid more attention to develop a sustainable tourism sector.
The climate change caused by the increasing amount of greenhouse gases has led international organizations to call for sectors to reduce carbon emissions as well as reduce negative impacts on the environment. That includes the tourism sector. According to data from Nature Climate Change, from 2009 to 2013, the rapid growth of tourism made a fourfold increase in carbon emissions compared to previous estimates. In 2018, the carbon emissions of the tourism sector accounted for 8% of global carbon emissions. In which, transportation (49%) and accommodation (6%) are the two activities that emit the most carbon directly into the environment.
In 2009, the concept of “low-carbon tourism” was proposed by the World Economic Forum in its Towards a Low Carbon Travel & Tourism Sector report, including data about carbon emissions from tourism and proposed measures to reduce carbon emissions from tourism activities, especially transport and accommodation.
This concept is developed based on the concept of “low-carbon economy” – an economy with minimal carbon emissions to the environment but still operating like a conventional economy. Therefore, the concept of low-carbon tourism can be understood as a form of tourism that brings higher tourism values and experiences to travelers and brings many social, environmental and economic benefits by reducing carbon emissions in tourism activities.
The year 2020 has been a critical year for global climate change goals as nearly 200 countries participating in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change submitted their national carbon reduction plans. This boosts the tourism sector to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions into the environment through long-term strategies with shared commitments led by international organizations. Especially, it starts from the two industries which have large carbon emissions, namely aviation and hospitality.
Over the past few years, many airlines have made commitments and strategies to cut off carbon emissions. In 2018, United Airlines became the first airline in the US to commit to a 100% carbon reduction by 2050. In early 2021, Lufthansa also made a commitment to cut the carbon emissions of flights in half by 2030 and aim to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The key measures in aviation’s carbon emissions reduction plans focus on the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and the deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS).
In particular, the use of SAF is the most popular direct measure to reduce carbon emissions. According to Air bp (the bp . group’s aviation division), SAF can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to traditional jet fuel. However, the proportion of sustainable fuel is very less than the total fuel burned by airlines. The most common reason is that the current production levels of SAF is still low and its price is many times higher than that of traditional aviation fuel. In the plan to reduce carbon emissions in the coming years, airlines all aim to increase the rate of SAF used. For example, the European aviation industry aims to use 6% sustainable fuel by 2030 and increase to 83% by 2050. Delta Airlines aims to replace 10% of conventional fuel by 2030 with sustainable aviation fuel.
In addition, the majority of airlines are also committed to accelerating investment in CCS. Carbon in the atmosphere will be captured by specialized technologies, separated into pure CO2 and then transported to storage places on the earth. In its recently announced carbon-neutral plan, United Airlines will participate in a project to build a CCS facility capable of storing 1 million tons of CO2 per year. This project is expected to be able to offset about 10% of the airline’s annual emissions. However, this measure also has its challenges, especially the very high investment costs in all stages to operate, from carbon capturing to transporting of carbon to the storage.
Besides aviation, hospitality also accounts for a large part of the direct carbon emissions to the environment from the use of energy during operations such as air conditioners, heating systems, lights and many other electrical appliances. According to a study from the International Tourism Partnership, an international organization with more than 30,000 hotel members, the hospitality industry must reduce carbon emissions by 66% by 2030 and 99% by 2050 to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
One of the direct carbon reduction measures in the hospitality industry is measuring and monitoring energy consumption and emissions at each property to improve operations and encouraging the use of renewable energy. In 2020, the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance joined forces with the World Travel and Tourism Council to launch the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative to help hotels measure their “carbon footprint” caused by stay and meeting activities. Around 25,000 hotels globally already have used this initiative to measure their carbon footprint.
However, it requires a large investment for hospitality to implement accurate measurements, improve energy consumption appropriately, as well as use renewable energy. Therefore, in recent years, it is mainly the large hospitality groups that have the ability to take the first steps to lead the hospitality industry to operate more sustainably. Centara Hotels & Resorts recently announced a 10-year roadmap to its environmental and climate commitments. The group aims to reduce electricity and water consumption by 20% as well as reduce emissions to the environment with solar power projects and the installation of systems to measure and manage electricity and water consumption. The Hilton Group has also made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions at its hotels by 61% by 2030 by promoting the use of renewable energy.
Today, environmental issues are not only a concern but have become a requirement of many travelers as their awareness of the “carbon footprint” is increasing along with sustainable tourism being the trend. Therefore, the tourism sector needs to set goals for sustainable development to meet this demand of travelers. With that goal, reducing carbon emissions is a long-term strategy but also an essential factor that needs to be prepared right now. Besides aviation and hospitality, other components in the tourism ecosystem such as destinations or travel services also need to pay attention and care to create suitable plans.