Tourism strategy lacks vital climate measures

The implications of action on climate change, such as lowering transport emissions, doesn’t seem to have registered on the radar of Tourism Tasmania. [8 January 2008 | Peter Boyer]

International tourism, the darling of global free markets, is feeling the pressure.

The burgeoning travel industry estimates it’s responsible for five per cent of global carbon emissions, and three months ago, at the International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism in Davos, Switzerland, it agreed urgent measures were needed to mend its ways.

Then a month ago came the Bali UN Climate Change Conference. Australia, taking note of scientific advice that by 2020 global emissions will have to be as much as 40 per cent below 1990 levels, agreed to toughen up its emissions targets.

With this sort of build-up, you’d think the climate would feature in Tasmanian tourism’s latest three-year business plan. But it gets no mention in either the plan’s key strategies nor the December 17 media release by tourism minister Paula Wriedt. In all of the plan’s 24 pages, climate change rates five lonely paragraphs.

Emissions trading and “carbon-efficient next-generation aircraft,” the plan says, will provide tourism operators with “opportunities to offer measurable offsets and reassurance to travellers concerned about the carbon footprint created by their travel.”

“Carbon-efficient next-generation aircraft” are, as the words imply, a generation away. It is disingenuous to suggest that tinkering with current technologies and designs will yield significantly lower emissions.

Offsets – where travellers invest in tree-planting, renewable energy or efficiency improvements to offset their “carbon footprint” – are no substitute for reducing emissions. Even the most reputable schemes cannot deliver immediate benefit; the worst do little more than line the pockets of those running them.

Tourism Tasmania does undertake to develop a climate change strategy. It would be unreasonable to expect a fully-formed strategy soon. The Garnaut study of climate change economics won’t be finished for six months and an emissions trading scheme is at least two years away.

But in the meantime, the plan has nothing to guide operators on reducing emissions, nor even advice that it would be prudent to start doing this – or just to start thinking about it.

The plan might have canvassed better public transport, or encouraging bicycle travel, or finding alternatives to “fly-drive” tourism, or other behaviour-modifying or energy efficiency measures. But it didn’t.

Premier Lennon pledged in October that his government would “significantly reduce” its carbon footprint, requiring “every public servant in Tasmania, as well as all Members of Parliament, to change the way we live our lives”. He asked all Tasmanians to join the challenge.

As I understand it, Tasmanian tourism industry leaders and policy-makers – including the minister – would be part of this process. Has nobody told them?

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