The need to strengthen the tourism sector's ability to address climate change took centre stage during the UNWTO-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change. The Conference was held in conjunction with the 26th Joint Commission Meeting for Asia and the Pacific (Legazpi, Philippines, 18-20 May 2014).
Asia-Pacific has been at the forefront of tourism growth and development over the last decade, and recent numbers confirm that tourism in the region continues to progress above average. With rising international tourist arrivals and receipts in 2013 (+6% and +8%, respectively), the region's tourism leadership is increasingly consolidated. Yet, continued tourism growth and sustainable development depends on improving the tourism's sector resilience to climate change.
"Climate change is real", said the President of the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III, opening the Conference. The President commended the celebration of events such as these and underscored the relevance of tourism as "one of the shortest and most efficient paths to inclusive growth".
The Philippines is mainstreaming "climate change adaptation with local, sectoral, and national plans - all of which will consequently guide the development of tourism destinations and tourism activities per locality". "With the increasing risks of climate change, this is something we encourage other ASEAN-member countries, as well as countries around the world, to look into", he added.
UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, made a call to position the fight against climate change at the heart of the tourism agenda, underscoring both the need for greater responsibility from the sector and the benefits sustainability entails for tourism and beyond: "Energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies can reduce operational costs. Resource efficiency not only mitigates and reduces the tourism footprint, but fosters economic growth and creates much needed jobs in the process."
Ms. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), in her opening remarks to the Conference, thanked the participants "for advancing the dialogue on how to address the greatest challenge of our time: climate change, and in particular, how to address climate change in tourism and in policy that promotes tourism as an economic engine".
The Conference highlighted that climate change mitigation policies should be consistent with the overall challenge it represents, thus requiring a multi-stakeholder approach and taking into account specific technological, economic and social changes.
Participants stressed that tourism's highly dynamic and innovative nature positions it at the forefront of those sectors dealing with climate change adaptation, and therefore providing opportunities to reduce the vulnerabilities it induces. But in order to succeed, this endeavor needs to be shared both by tourism providers and consumers through increased awareness on the individual contribution to climate change response.
The UNWTO-ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change brought together more than 200 senior tourism officials, policymakers and industry experts from 18 countries to exchange views and best practices on how to strengthen the sector's ability to address this global challenge.
The upcoming UNWTO/University of Queensland study Tourism´s Response to Climate Change: An Examination of Tourism Related Initiatives in Asia and Pacific shows that Asia-Pacific is affected by 90% of global climate-related catastrophes. Responding to the challenges of climate change is thus fundamental to ensure that tourism, a sector which has been identified by a majority of countries as a pillar for socio-economic progress, continues to advance in the region.