Why we need to start reporting carbon emissions in the travel and tourism industry

Dr. Susanne Becken

Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University, Australia

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Dr. Susanne Becken, Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University, Australia & Lucas Bobes, Head of Sustainability, Amadeus IT Group

lucas and susanne

It is no secret: Travelling – with all the benefits it brings – comes with a substantial carbon footprint. Emissions are produced at all stages of travel, from booking, to getting to the destination, staying at accommodation, to having a meal and buying souvenirs. Overall, the contribution of tourism to global greenhouse gas emissions is over 5%, and it is growing.

At the same time, the world has agreed on the need to rapidly and drastically reduce emissions, with the goal to reach zero net emissions after 2050. On the 4th of November 2016, the Paris climate agreement came into force. 94 nations have ratified it and more have committed to do so by the end of this year. The climate negotiations to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from the 7-18 November at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) have gained substantial momentum as a result.

The carbon budget

The main challenge is the ‘carbon budget’. If we want to keep global temperatures within a 2 degree Celsius warming compared with preindustrial levels, we can only emit a further 900 giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide. At the current rate of emissions, this gives us another 20 years. Who can emit how much and what for will be discussed in Morocco. But one thing is certain: if we do not begin to more systematically measure emissions we are unlikely to know where we are, and we will fail to identify where reductions are needed and possible.

Carbon reporting, just like financial accounting and reporting, will become the new normal. Already, an increasing number of companies disclose their carbon emissions, and there are some excellent examples from within the travel and tourism industries. Business leaders have already recognised that reporting carbon emissions is not only good practice, but offers advantages in terms of improving operational efficiency, compliance, employee and community engagement, and branding.


Getting everyone involved

A range of carbon accounting tools as well as certification schemes and reporting frameworks are available for travel and tourism companies. This means that everyone can get involved, from smaller businesses to large corporations. However, the diversity of options also presents a risk – namely that carbon accounts are not comparable and possibly insufficiently transparent. It is an important next step for the travel and tourism sector to provide guidance on minimum requirements of measurement and disclosure. This is particularly important if we want to involve the travellers themselves, who increasingly ask for sustainable solutions, but find themselves faced with confusing information.

Transportation, and in particular aviation, represents the dominant part of a traveller’s carbon footprint. Thus, there is an opportunity to begin here with a global solution to measuring emissions and providing reliable and comparable information to the customer. This is where a company like Amadeus is perfectly placed. Imagine a world where every flight you book, whether directly or via an agent, would have both the price and carbon costs attached to it. Imagine an easy system where you can compare different flight options based on carbon footprints, and where you can create your own annual carbon reports at the push of a button? This will be the new world we are going to live in.

To learn more about how the travel and tourism industry is doing in terms of carbon reporting, have a look at this report: Proving the Case: Carbon Reporting in Travel and Tourism, co-authored by the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Amadeus.


Environmental Sustainability, Guest Post, Industry Relations