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Climate Change: Important Roles for the Tourism Industry and Travelers

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

A cold desert region in Northern India, Ladakh and its capital of Leh, have a challenging and increasingly disastrous relationship with water.

On August 6, 2010 this reality became frighteningly clear, yet again.

During the dark of midnight ferocious flash floods burst into Ladakh, the result of yet another cloud burst triggered by the increasing temperatures associated with climate change. The region experienced 14 inches of rain in a mere two hours, leaving 234 dead (including six tourists) and more than 800 people missing, likely washed away by gorging rivers and waterways. In addition to the tremendous human toll, century-old houses were collapsed or swept away by flood waters, fields were ravaged, and orchards uprooted.

Photo credit: Jennifer Spatz

In total some 71 towns and villages were damaged by this horrific weather event and 9,000 lives impacted. Though the region had experienced flooding for more than 100 years, it has only been during the past decade that such deadly floods have become a nearly annual event.

Climate Change Tragedies Impacts on Earth and Humanity

The flash floods of 2010 in Ladakh are hardly unique. They’re one of an increasing number of examples of the profound and deadly impacts of climate change.

Around the world, some of the poorest and least equipped communities are struggling to cope with warming temperatures that are changing landscapes and altering life.

In November of 2020, two major hurricanes pummeled the Nicaraguan coast, destroying the village of Haulover, leaving its people with the heart wrenching choice of staying in their coastal fishing community only to undoubtedly face future disastrous storms or pick up and move inland, saying goodbye to the only way of life they’ve ever known.

Photo credit: Havana Times

Climate Change Action

As a planet, we have about one decade left to take meaningful action addressing the climate crisis in order to avoid irreversible changes and harm to many of earth’s natural systems.

If we do not act quickly, warming temperatures across the globe will continue altering landscapes and threatening local cities and communities with tragic consequences.

We all bear responsibility for addressing climate change and reaching the net zero goal. This includes individual travelers and the travel industry, both of whom must be active participants in achieving such a lofty benchmark.

The Travel Industry’s Role in Climate Change

The travel and tourism industry, which has for so long relied upon the hospitality of communities worldwide, has a responsibility now more than ever, to step up and respond to the increasing challenges of climate change. And travelers should rest assured that we at Global Family Travels and many, many others in the industry are doing just that.

The tourism industry is highly vulnerable to climate change, and at the same time contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), one of the causes of global warming. Statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organization indicate that tourism is responsible for roughly 5 percent of the world's carbon emissions, though other experts suggest the true figure is nearly double.

A silver lining of COVID-19 has been a 7% reduction of global carbon emissions, however, this decline is expected to rebound in 2021 with the reopening of destinations and vaccines rolling out.

The travel industry, which has been one of the most affected by the pandemic, will play an important role in the economic recovery of many destinations. As countries begin reopening and travel businesses begin to operate again, we are being given an unprecedented opportunity right now to rethink how tourism can address our climate emergency, to drive more sustainable experiences and to create awareness among travelers how to reduce our carbon footprints.

In the words of the UNWTO about transforming tourism during our global pandemic: “This crisis is also an unprecedented opportunity to transform the relationship of tourism with nature, climate and the economy.”

Data from the transportation industry is a prime example of why joint action on climate change is so important. Globally, the transportation sector is responsible for a quarter of carbon emissions, according to a recent National Geographic article. The same story notes that aviation accounts for just over two percent of those emissions.

Another report, this one from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), reveals that the nation causing the lion’s share of aviation-related carbon emissions is the United States. In 2017 alone, 12 percent of Americans accounted for 68 percent of global air travel.

And don’t be fooled, 2017 was not unique. Before the pandemic struck, the number of people taking commercial flights had been rapidly increasing. In fact, 2019 was a record breaking year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which reported that 926 million people took flights, a four percent increase over 2018 and a whopping nine percent increase over the previous two years.

How Can We Help Mitigate Climate Change?

The February 7 deadly glacier break in the Himalayas in India is another, very recent example of this fact. Dozens were left dead and more than 100 missing after a collapsed piece of a glacier came careening downstream, collecting debris and energy as it progressed, ultimately slamming into two hydroelectric plants.

Photo credit: Jennifer Spatz

As Bill Gates points out in his forthcoming book, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have And The Breakthroughs We Need, the world currently adds about 51 bil