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Will COP26 signify a turning point in sustainable tourism?

‘Building back better’ through a green recovery is essential for climate change, say experts

It’s hoped that COP26 will be a catalyst for greater sustainability in travel. The United Nation’s Climate Change Conference – the 26th Conference of the Parties – is currently taking place in Glasgow, UK, between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

Already, private sector companies are committing to more transparent actions around reducing emissions. In addition, the lull in tourism caused by the pandemic has given companies time to reassess and introduce best practices.

At the same time, there is a growing demand among travellers for change and transparency. Data and analytics company GlobalData reports that, with respect to materiality, 45% of respondents in a recent poll stated that the environment was most important to them out of the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors.

Ralph Hollister, Travel & Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, said: “This growing concern from the public is reflected by the United Nations, which expects parties to commit to new environmental targets at COP26, and tourism is an established part of the agenda.”

New environmental commitments may be easier to action due to the position the tourism industry is currently in. The recovery period is predicted to continue for some time.

International tourism arrivals are not expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels until 2024, according to GlobalData forecasts

Hollister continues: “Not having to deal with high levels of tourism demand means that it is an ideal time for public and private sectors to reset operations to make them more environmentally sustainable, and to also enhance communication and relationships between one another. Having these sectors working in harmony increases the chances of sustainability commitments being met in tourism.

“Any public-private partnerships that are formed will decide on the success of environmental sustainability in tourism and need to be perceived as business relationships. To encourage the private sector, it needs to be made clear that both sides share the risks, rewards and responsibility for the sustainability initiatives that are agreed upon.”

The UNWTO has gathered hundreds of private sector operators from across the world to commit to the Glasgow Declaration, as part of COP26. This Declaration is aimed at grouping the highly fragmented tourism sector behind a single, enveloping goal of halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 at the latest.

Each COP26 signatory will commit to the delivery of an all-encompassing climate action plan, or updated plan, within 12 months of putting pen to paper

Hollister concludes: “The chances of more well thought out and pragmatic plans will increase as private sector companies have had – and will have – the time to reassess how they can operate in a more sustainable manner due to the downtime created by the pandemic.”

 

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