UN Climate Change Chief Patricia Espinosa spoke at the World Travel & Tourism Conference (WTTC) in New York yesterday, where she launched the WTTC Sustainability Action Plan - a bold new initiative by the travel and tourism sector, supported by UN Climate Change, to encourage and help the entire sector to take stronger and more ambitious action to address climate change.
In her speech, she said that while the travel and tourism industry has grown to be a global economic force , generating 10.4% of global Gross Domestic Product in 2018, it also accounts for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to climate change, which she called "the single biggest threat to the travel and tourism sector."
"Climate change is outpacing us, outpacing our collective ability to get a handle on it, and could soon outpace your business and have a devastating impact on the global economy itself," she said.
She called the WTTC's Sustainability Action Plan a "timely and important initiative" and welcomed the opportunity to cooperate on chartering the way to achieve climate neutrality in the sector by 2050.
Read full speech:
It's my pleasure to address this forum and I thank Gloria Guevara for her leadership as the CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
I thank President Calderon for his leadership as well and congratulate him in his new role as Chair of the New Climate Economy.
I'll begin with a quote some of you may know.
"Change before you have to."
It's from Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.
He's referring to the idea that economic history is packed with examples of companies that found enormous success, but, once achieving it, stuck to the same formula-using the same structures and processes that got them there.
Meanwhile, the world continued to change rapidly. What worked before was suddenly outdated. Seemingly predictable markets vanished overnight as tastes and realities changed.
Conversely, some of history's most successful businesses thrived because they anticipated these changing realities, kept pace and-I would suggest-had the unique ability to see the world as it really is, not as they wish it to be.
The travel and tourism sector has a long and successful history. In fact, it has never been stronger.
With the rise of a new middle class in many emerging economies, the sector has helped more do what others have done for decades-explore the world, fulfill their dreams, reunite with friends and family.
The sector has grown to be a global economic force. In 2018, for example, it generated 10.4 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product-that's more than $8.8 trillion (USD).
Growth figures indicate the sector is outpacing the global economy itself with a growth rate of 3.9 per cent; the rest of the global economy grew at 3.2 per cent.
It also drives jobs-especially in developing countries, helping millions achieve financial freedom as well.
It therefore seems strange to come here and tell you to change before you have to-but that is my message today.
Not changed by us-but by reality-by climate change.
The reality is that climate change is outpacing us, outpacing our collective ability to get a handle on it, and could soon outpace your business and have a devastating impact on the global economy itself.
It is the single biggest threat to the travel and tourism sector. Yet, it's a threat you can clearly see coming. It is advertised daily.
Any other risk with the magnitude climate change poses would have businesses immediately pivoting and addressing it head on. Some have.
But too many companies continue operating as if it doesn't exist.
Let me ask you this: in what world does that plan make sense?
Since when was avoidance a good long-term strategy?
Ladies and gentlemen, business as usual isn't good enough anymore. Not for your sector, not for any sector.
We've talked about growth; let's talk about loss.
From 1998 to 2017, direct economic losses from disasters around the world were estimated at almost $3 trillion. Climate-related disasters accounted for 77 per cent of that total.
Some may say we've had a few bad years. Wrong. It represents a rise of 151 per cent from 1978 to 1997.
Of course, money isn't everything.
Over that period, climate-related and geophysical disasters claimed an estimated 1.3 million lives.
More than 90 per cent of all disasters were caused by floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves or other extreme weather events.
I've been to regions-especially low-lying, small island states-regions featured heavily in your advertising-and have seen the direct impacts of climate change.
Families. Jobs. Hope. All lost.
Still not convinced? Let me ask you this: how many businesses in your sector are selling tickets to Bahamas this year?
The point is this: the places I'm talking about are the very destinations upon which your sector depends!
And yet actions of many businesses within the travel and tourism sector-despite progress made-we're getting to that-are inconsistent with this reality.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature, which tried to quantify the industry's total carbon footprint, the results indicated that tourism accounts for around 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This was led by an international team of scientists, which quantified the environmental impact of everything from transatlantic flights to souvenirs.
Eight per cent is huge. Under the Paris Agreement, we're supposed to be working towards stabilizing global temperature rise to 1.5C by the end of the century. Every piece of scientific evidence at our disposal tells us this is the minimum to avoid potential disaster.
Our current trajectory will more than double that number. We simply cannot predict the future of humanity in this scenario.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's clear that society must change, businesses must change, and the travel and tourism sector needs to change too. It's more than a question of morality, it's a question of survival.
If you don't change your business, climate change will change it for you.
Let's talk then, of change-of solutions, of hope, of building resilience and a more sustainable and prosperous future. For this sector, for this planet, and for humanity.
The good news is that the WTTC recognizes and is doing its best to urge its members to take stronger and more ambitious action to address climate change.
You recognize that real environmental action is about more than recycling towels at the hotel. While it's a helpful action-a profitable one-it's not even close to enough.
Instead, WTTC recognizes that the sector must take real climate action. And UN Climate Change wants to provide the support you need to do that.
We got things moving last year at your conference in Buenos Aires, when our two organizations agreed to cooperate to address climate change.
Today, we are launching the WTTC Sustainability Action Plan.
This is a bold new initiative by WTTC, supported by UN Climate Change, to encourage and help the entire travel and tourism sector to take meaningful action to address the threats that climate change poses to the sector and to the world.
We congratulate WTTC for this timely and important initiative and look forward to working closely with you to charter the way to achieve climate neutrality in the travel and tourism sector by 2050.
While the 2050 target is what the science tells us that we must achieve, the journey for all of us to achieve that goal needs to start now.
I call on all WTTC members to give their full support to this initiative, by supporting the activities by WTTC and by devising and implementing ambitious climate action plans within your own organizations.
I also ask you to not lose any time. The target may seem far away but many types of businesses in travel and tourism have the means to go climate neutral within the next couple of years. There is no reason, and certainly no business case, for delaying action. Again, the best time for action is now.
In that vein, we are also pleased to invite some of those early trail-blazers to a dedicated event at the next COP event in Santiago Chile this December.
UN Climate Change is well aware that we need to involve everybody throughout society if we're to implement and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
That's why we're supporting business-to-business initiatives at the sector levels. We're already working, for example, with the fashion and sports sector.
We invite you to come to COP to set an example for your peers to follow. I look forward to see you in Santiago with the best of the best of climate action in travel and tourism.
I talked about gains, I talked about loss. Let me end by talking about potential.
The travel and tourism sector has enormous potential to help combat climate change. You have one of the most visible and consumer-facing sectors in the world.
You have the opportunity to engage with customers and suppliers on climate issues every day. Your reach is enormous.
So is the potential for more business opportunities. For example, you can offer climate-smart travel for holidays, work and destinations.
And you can play an education role, helping share experiences and practices that work with others in the sector.
That, in turn, can help the overall society as it works to bend the emissions curve downwards, and to prepare for a changing climate.
Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges ahead of us are significant. But by working together, we can overcome them.
And we can change before we have to.
Let us continue working together to build a better sector, a cleaner and greener world, and a more prosperous future for all.