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13 Nov, 2007

Climate Change a “Question of Global Justice”

The WTM London will host a ministerial Summit on Tourism and Climate Change to consider and ratify a Declaration recommended by environmental experts at the UNWTO’s Summit on Climate Change in Davos, Switzerland in October 2007. But there are wider issues at stake,

Today, the WTM London will host a ministerial Summit on Tourism and Climate Change to consider and ratify a Declaration recommended by environmental experts at the UNWTO’s Summit on Climate Change in Davos, Switzerland in October 2007. But there are wider issues at stake, as pointed out in the Global Environment Outlook 2007 report released by the UN Environment Programme in October. Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil combed through the 572-page report to check out some of the grassroots concerns.

In this dispatch:








Addressing climate change and global warming have become a question of global justice, says the fourth “Global Environment Outlook” (GEO-4) released by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) last month. In a significant new perspective, the 572-page report indicates that the era of generating economic growth at any cost is over, and the time for cleaning up the ecological mess has begun. For the sake of future generations, the clean-up will be as much a question of justice as finding technological solutions.

Indeed, the report indicates that the interlinkages between the business and economic models of life have become so intertwined that fixing them will leave no element of life untouched. Business models that have totally been focussed on creating economic growth and corporate profitability will now need “alternative systems” and means of measuring success. Key questions that now emerge are who is going to do what, over what time frame, how much will it cost and who will pay?

The concept of “justice” is emphasised several times in the report. It says, “Environmental degradation due to development raises deep ethical questions that go beyond economic cost-benefit ratios. The question of justice is perhaps the greatest moral question emerging in relation to environmental change and sustainable development.”

It points to the growing evidence that the greatest consumers of environmental resources experience the benefits of development but it is “often, people living in poverty in the developing world, (who) suffer the negative effects of environmental degradation.” As future generations will pay the costs of environmental degradation, “profound ethical questions are raised when benefits are extracted from the environment by those who do not bear the burden.”


One section devoted entirely to the topic of “Justice and Ethics” says: “Since the environment affects the very basis of human well-being, it is a matter of justice to consider the impacts of environmental degradation on others, and attempt to minimize harm for both current and future generations. It has been argued that a “global ethic” is required to address the problems of the 21st century (Singer 2002).

Another section says: “Environmental degradation undermines natural assets, and negatively affects human well-being. It is clear that a deteriorating environment is an injustice to both current and future generations.” It adds, “The pursuit of some people’s opportunities and freedoms may harm or limit those of others. It is important that policymakers consider the adverse effects their decisions have on people and the environment in other areas or regions, since such communities do not participate in local decision making.”

Compiled by a global team of 400 researchers, scientists and policy-makers, contains a significant point of distinction over the last such report in 2002, according to UN Environmental Program Executive Director Achim Steiner. He says, “Claims and counter claims over climate change are in many ways over. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put a full stop behind the science of whether human actions are impacting the atmosphere and clarified the likely impacts not in a far away future but within the lifetime of our generation.”

Packed with statistics and data about the deteriorating state of land, water, air and ecosystems, the report leaves no room for uncertainty about the dangers ahead. One significant aspect is that its list of sources and references rarely quote the private companies but rely almost entirely on universities, environmental groups and institutions that have long warned about the problem. The research and editorial team reflects a multi-cultural and multi-denominational line-up, which helps underscore the “alternative” perspective it is seeking to provide. Being free of corporate sponsors boosts its credibility.

Says the report, “Two decades after Our Common Future emphasized the urgency of sustainable development, environmental degradation continues to threaten human well-being, endangering health, physical security, social cohesion and the ability to meet material needs. Analyses throughout GEO-4 also highlight rapidly disappearing forests, deteriorating landscapes, polluted waters and urban sprawl. The objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for action.”


The report comes 20 years since the Brundtland Commission report, the first attempt by the UN to put the looming environmental threat on the global agenda. It comes at the half-way point of the 15-year target set by the UN to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and 10 years since the Asian economic crisis, when Asia came face to face with the consequences of the “Greed is Good” mantra. The research, experiences and threats will help travel & tourism a) understand the issues; b) identify policy options and c) pursue cost effective means of implementing it. Almost no element of the development process is spared from accountability, from urbanisation to electronic technology (e-waste) and war.

Indeed, the report also chides the media, indicating that its pursuit of “balanced reporting” may have contributed to a worsening of the problem by claiming that scientists who were warning about it in the past were “always exaggerating the dangers.” It adds, “The media, in their attempt at balanced reporting, can always find at least one scientist to contradict the general consensus of the majority of scientists, resulting in the common political view that the science is still uncertain, and, therefore, there is no need for precipitous action (Boykoff and Boykoff 2004).

“The danger of this balanced, ‘no action needed yet’ approach is that millions of lives might be needlessly lost, human health impaired, or species made extinct,” the report says, “The danger of delayed decisions has been clearly documented in the case of radiation, asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons, and other environmental and human health issues. Despite early warnings from scientists on these issues, it was decades before action was ultimately taken (EEA 2001). Similar delays are being experienced in relation to climate change and biodiversity loss.”

This is where the question of justice begins to apply, and the fault-lines emerge. The West will seek solutions that alleviate climate change but without compromising its lifestyles, the east will want to attain the lifestyles of the west without impeding itself with environmental curbs. However, as the developing countries made clear at the recent UN Global Summit on Climate Change, they want developed countries to bear the greater share. This is what justice is all about.


Interestingly, neither UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon nor UNEP executive director Achim Steiner mention the justice factor in their introduction to the report. Mr Steiner calls it an issue of “collective responsibility”. He says, “The challenge now is to bring over 190 nations together in a common cause.” Mr Ban refers to the impact of environmental degradation on global peace and security. Noting that the sense of urgency “should be a concern to all countries, rich or poor,” Mr Ban says that the issues need to be addressed in unison via “joint action on a global scale” so as to create “win-win opportunities”. He adds: “There are many policy and technological options available to address the impending crisis, but we need the political will to seize them.”

However, the report warns that the justice factor will be critical, specifically the pursuit of justice by victims of environmental degradation. It says, “There is very little equity or justice in who is vulnerable to environmental change. The poor and marginalized are almost always hit hardest by the degrading environment.” Community struggles against unequal treatment and discrimination in the distribution of adverse environmental effects has led to the emergence of “a substantial environmental justice movement” over the last three decades.

This justice movement covers groups from both the private and civil sectors, including all those acting in the name of corporate social responsibility, fair trade, socially responsible investment, and organic and slow food, as well as key individuals with significant personal resources. These groups “do not wait for governments to act” but “gain momentum and increase influence as their numbers of adherents pass key thresholds.”

“The demand for environmental justice is closely linked to environmental rights: the right of every individual to an environment adequate for his/her well-being,” the report says. “A just system requires policies that protect people from harm, counter the tendency to maximize profits at the environment’s expense, and distribute opportunities, risks and costs in a fairer way. It requires accessible institutions (courts), and fair processes. Governments have responded to this need by broadening laws and policies to include the polluter-pays-principle, environmental impact assessments, principles of good neighbourliness, environmental taxes, redistributive mechanisms, participatory and inclusive processes, access to information and right to know provisions, and compensation.”


One key element of this is access to information. Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration gives the public a right to access environmental justice, information and decision-making. This “access principle” has been converted to a “hard” policy through the Aarhus Convention, under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Originally signed in 1998, and ratified by 33 countries in Europe and Central Asia as of early 2005, it gives non-government organizations (NGOs) “a central role in its operational procedures. Environmental NGOs are represented on the Bureau of the Meeting of the Parties, in follow-up task forces and in the compliance mechanism.”

So far, according to GEO-4, “most progress has been made on access to information, a bit less on access to participation and the least on access to justice.” But that could change, because the convention can be expanded beyond the UNECE region. It is open to signature by countries outside Europe, and the signatories have agreed to promote the application of its principles in international environmental decision making processes and in international organizations related to the environment.”

In the final analysis, GEO-4 maintains an optimistic tone, stressing that alternative development paths are available and will emerge. “Human ingenuity, resilience and capacity to adapt are powerful forces from which to draw to effect change,” it says, “Imagine a world in which human well-being for all is secure. Every individual has access to clean air and water, ensuring improvements in global health. Global warming has been addressed, through reductions in energy use, and investment in clean technology. Assistance is offered to vulnerable communities. Species flourish as ecosystem integrity is assured. Transforming these images into reality is possible, and it is this generation’s responsibility to start doing so.”



One groundbreaking aspect of the Global Environment Outlook 2007 report is an attempt to estimate the monetary “value” of biodiversity. Consider, too, the financial costs. The GEO-4 report talks of the “enormous, trillion-dollar value of the Earth’s ecosystems and the goods-and-services they provide.” The report authors are clearly hoping that if estimating the economic value of travel & tourism as a job-creator and foreign exchange earner has helped policy-makers create the conditions for generating the phenomenal tourism growth in the last few decades, the same can be done by putting an estimate on the value of biodiversity and its value to tourism.

Says the report, “The contributions of biodiversity-dependent ecosystem services to national economies are substantial. The science of valuation of ecosystem services is new, and still developing basic conceptual and methodological rigour and agreement, but it has already been very instructive, since the value of such services is generally ignored or underestimated at decision and policy making levels. Identifying economic values of ecosystem services, together with the notions of intrinsic value and other factors, will assist significantly in future decisions relating to trade-offs in ecosystem management.”

Says the report, “The roles of biodiversity in the supply of ecosystem services can be categorized as provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting, and biodiversity may play multiple roles in the supply of these types of services. For example, in agriculture, biodiversity is the basis for a provisioning service (food, fuel or fibre is the end product), a supporting service (such as micro-organisms cycling nutrients and soil formation), a regulatory service (such as through pollination), and potentially, a cultural service in terms of spiritual or aesthetic benefits, or cultural identity.

The report estimates the value of:

<> Annual world fish catch: US$58 billion (provisioning service).

<> Anti-cancer agents from marine organisms: up to US$1 billion/year (provisioning service).

<> Global herbal medicine market: roughly US$43 billion in 2001 (provisioning service).

<> Honeybees as pollinators for agriculture crops: US$2–8 billion/year (regulating service).

<> Coral reefs for fisheries and tourism: US$30 billion/year

It also estimates the cost of:

<> Mangrove degradation in Pakistan: US$20 million in fishing losses, US$500 000 in timber losses, US$1.5 million in feed and pasture losses (regulating provisioning services).

<> Newfoundland cod fishery collapse: US$2 billion and tens of thousands of jobs (provisioning service).

Says the report, “Ecosystems such as forests, grasslands and mangroves provide valuable environmental services to society. They include provisioning services that furnish food, water, timber and fibre; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits; and supporting services, such as soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling (MA 2003). Biodiversity continues to underpin food security and medicinal goods.

“Unfortunately, current markets fail to reflect the value of such ecosystems and ecosystem services, creating a “mismatch between market and social prices” (UNEP and LSE 2005, Canadian Boreal Initiative 2005). As a result, ecosystem services are often viewed as free public goods by their beneficiaries. The combined effect results in overexploitation of ecosystems.

“Of those ecosystem services that have been assessed, about 60 per cent are degraded or used unsustainably, including fisheries, waste treatment and detoxification, water purification, natural hazard protection, regulation of air quality, regulation of regional and local climate, and erosion control. Most have been directly affected by an increase in demand for specific provisioning services, such as fisheries, wild meat, water, timber, fibre and fuel.”



The GEO-4 report takes a realistic view of the travel & tourism industry. It acknowledges its economic contribution as well as the role it can play in ecological preservation. At the same time, it stresses that tourism can be affected by environmental damage caused both by itself as well as other polluting industries. Tourism, along with other industries like agriculture, forestry and fisheries, can exert pressure on the environment and influence environmental change. These sectors “provide important economic and social benefits to people. The challenge lies in the proper management of these resources.”

Here are some examples of references to tourism in the report:

<> The state of Quintana Roo in Mexico is experiencing a significant growth in tourism infrastructure all along the Caribbean coast. “The conversion of mangrove forest into beachfront tourist resorts along the Mayan Riviera, south of Cancun, has left coastlines vulnerable. Playa del Carmen, at 14 per cent, has the fastest growth in tourism infrastructure in Mexico. Threats to the aquifers come from increasing water use, of which 99 per cent is withdrawn from groundwater, and wastewater disposal.”

<> Las Vegas, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, exemplifies the problems of rampant urban sprawl. As the gaming and tourism industry blossomed, so has the city’s population. In 1985, Las Vegas was home to 557 000 people, and was the 66th largest metropolitan area in the United States. In 2004, the Las Vegas-Paradise area was ranked 32nd in size, with a permanent population nearing 1.7 million. According to one estimate, it may double by 2015.

Population growth has put a strain on water supplies. Satellite imagery of Las Vegas provides a dramatic illustration of the spatial patterns and rates of change resulting from the city’s urban sprawl. The city covers the mainly green and grey areas in the centre of these images recorded in 1973 and 2000. Note the proliferation of roads and other infrastructure (the rectangular pattern of black lines) and the dramatic increase in irrigated areas.

<> In many of the Small Island Developing states (SIDS), “tourism is the main economic activity. Seychelles has created a win-win situation for development and environment by linking ecotourism and indigenous species restoration.” The report notes that ecotourism was being threatened by rats which were destroying various species of local birds and wildlife. The ecotourism sector sought the declaration of a protected area status. “With the lure of potential future ecotourism revenue, operators in three islands participated in an eradication programme, funding their own costs of nearly US$250 000.”

<> The Mediterranean Sea is “the biggest tourist destination on Earth.” More than 130 million people in its 21 countries live permanently along its coastline, a figure that doubles during the summer tourist season. “Because of its geographical and historical characteristics, and its distinctive natural and cultural heritage, the Mediterranean is a unique ecoregion, with common issues and problems.

Inspite of a great deal of effort to protecting the Mediterranean region’s environment, environmental degradation has accelerated in recent decades. Valuable agricultural land is being lost to urbanization, salinization and desertification. Scarce, overused water resources are threatened with depletion or degradation. Traffic congestion, noise, poor air quality and the rapid growth of waste generation are compromising urban standards of living and health. Coastal areas and the sea are affected by pollution and coastlines are being built up and/or eroded, while fish resources are being depleted. In short, overexploitation is disrupting the Mediterranean’s unique landscapes and biodiversity.

“Although it is difficult and risky to assign specific values, the costs of environmental degradation are clearly very significant. In addition, environmental pressures are likely to increase considerably over the coming 20 years, especially in the tourism, transport, urban development and energy sectors.”

The report cites two major current initiatives to improve the state of the environment in the Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development, developed by UNEP’s Mediterranean Action Plan and adopted in 2005, focuses on seven priority fields of action: water resources management, energy, transport, tourism, agriculture, urban development, and the marine and coastal environments. Complementary to this is the Horizon 2020 initiative under the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The aim of this initiative is to “de-pollute the Mediterranean by 2020” through tackling all the major sources, including industrial emissions, and municipal waste, particularly urban wastewater.”

<> In Latin America and the Caribbean, the priority environmental issues are growing cities, threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, degraded coasts and polluted seas, and regional vulnerability to climate change. Regionalization and globalization have triggered an increase in oil and gas extraction, expanded the use of arable land for monoculture exports and intensified tourism. As a result, decreased access to rural livelihoods has helped fuel the continued unplanned growth of urban areas.

<> In Tanzania, the report notes that the National poverty-reduction strategy was revamped to reflect an environmental component. The Ministry of Finance developed a public expenditure review (PER) system which emphasised that environmental investments can support health, agriculture, tourism and industry, and contribute to government revenues.

<> The loss of glaciers and snow cover in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia is particularly dramatic evidence of climate change. In Peru, the Andean glaciers of Yanamarey, Uruashraju and Broggi are diminishing in size, while the Antisan glacier in Ecuador retreated eight times faster during the 1990s than in previous decades. Glacier loss in the Andes, and saltwater intrusion from sea-level rise will affect the availability of drinking water, and may also affect agricultural production and tourism.

<> Even the polar ecosystems are now being threatened. In Arctic waters, increased shipping brings increased risk of spills, contamination and disturbance to wildlife. In the Antarctic, even the growth of scientific activities adds new pressures, as does bioprospecting. The “diversifying and expanding tourism industry in the Antarctic has seen a great increase in ship-borne passengers. The Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting is examining the regulation of tourism. The increase in visitors, combined with changing conditions related to global warming, risks the introduction of non-native species to this isolated part of the world.”

<> The destruction of coral reefs. Reefs are losing their value for human well-being in terms of diminished food security and employment, coastal protection, and reduced potential for tourism and pharmaceutical research and production. The bleaching of corals due to climate change may result in global economic losses of up to US$104.8 billion over the next 50 years.

Coral reefs are fragile ecosystems, sensitive to climate change, human activities, such as tourism, and natural threats and disasters. Asia and the Pacific has some 206 000 km2 of coral reefs, 72.5 per cent of the world’s total (Wilkinson 2000, Wilkinson 2004). Heavy reliance on marine resources across the region has resulted in the degradation of many coral reefs, particularly those near major population centres.

Moreover, higher sea surface temperatures have led to severe bleaching of the corals in coastal regions. About 60 per cent of the region’s coral reefs are estimated to be at risk, with mining and destructive fishing the greatest threats. The ultimate impacts are habitat degradation and destruction, which threaten important and valuable species, and increase the loss of biodiversity.

<> Nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors worldwide, representing 7 per cent of the total worldwide export of goods-and-services. Nature based tourism depends on the conservation of natural landscapes and wildlife, and using ecosystems in this way promotes both human well-being and biodiversity conservation.



Countries are attempting new ways of raising revenues for environmental protection. Referring to these as “green taxes,” the GEO-4 report says that although they are opposed by industry interest groups, they are being explored as part of the pressures being placed on the world’s major polluters and environmental destroyers. And governments are “gaining experience in implementing them.”

Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, which started early on environmental tax reform, remain at the forefront of developments. Germany and the United Kingdom have made much progress since the late 1990s. Measures are mainly taken at national or federal level, but increasingly instruments are being applied at lower levels, for example, resource taxes in Flanders and Catalonia and congestion charges in some cities, such as London, and, albeit more modest, Rome and Oslo.

Approaches such as ecological tax reform and “tax shift” have been tried, whereby taxes on energy use and the consumption of other resources are increased while corresponding reductions are made on income tax. When introduced gradually and in ways that are revenue-neutral and easy to administer, such approaches can encourage environmentally-conscious consumption patterns without causing significant negative social distribution effects (Von Weizsäcker and Jesinghaus 1992).

For example, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust in Belize, in Central America, receives most of its revenue from an airport tax of about US$3.75, paid by all visitors upon departure, together with a 20 per cent commission on cruise ship passenger fees. The British overseas island territory of Turks and Caicos designates 1 per cent of a 9 per cent hotel tax to support the maintenance and protection of the country’s protected areas.

One of the payment schemes is called carbon sequestration, where international buyers pay for planting new trees or protecting existing forests to absorb carbon, offsetting carbon emissions elsewhere. Markets for carbon reduction credits are growing rapidly, the report says. From US$300 million in 2003, they are projected to rise to US$10–40 billion by 2010. The World Bank alone had nine carbon funds amounting to US$1.7 billion by 2005. A concerted focus on four areas carbon sequestration, landscape beauty, biodiversity and water would help to address rural poverty.

While it is widely recognized that market failures need to be corrected, they are not necessarily solved through market solutions alone. A combination of market-based mechanisms and regulatory structures is often needed for markets to work successfully. The cap-and-trade model in the case of carbon emissions is an example of a regulatory framework defining overall emission limits before a market for emission credits could be established (UNEP and LSE 2005).



The following are some key paragraphs related to transport systems:

<> Atmospheric emissions from the transport sector depend upon several factors, such as vehicle fleet size, age, technology, fuel quality, vehicle kilometres travelled and driving modes. The low fleet turnover rate, especially for diesel-powered vehicles, and the export of older vehicles from rich to poor countries, slows progress in curbing emissions in developing countries. In some parts of Asia, a majority of road vehicles consist of two- and three-wheelers powered by small engines. They provide mobility for millions of families. Although inexpensive, and with lower fuel consumption than cars or light trucks on a per vehicle basis, they contribute disproportionately to particulate, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions (World Bank 2000, Faiz and Gautam 2004).

<> Air transport is one the fastest rising transport modes, with an 80 per cent increase in kilometres flown between 1990 and 2003. This dramatic increase was driven by growing affluence, more airports, the rise in low-cost airlines and the promotion of overseas tourism. Economic efficiency is driving improvements in energy efficiency, and new commercial aircraft are claimed to use up to 20 per cent less fuel than those sold 10 years ago. Shipping has also grown remarkably since Brundtland, mirroring the increase in global trade. It has risen from 4 billion tonnes in 1990 to 7.1 billion tonnes total goods loaded in 2005. Improvements in the environmental performance of the shipping industry have been less pronounced than for air transport.

<> Road transport: Shifting from public transport systems to private car use increases congestion and atmospheric emissions. Poor urban land-use planning, which leads to high levels of urban sprawl (spreading the urban population over a larger area), results in more car travel and higher energy consumption. The lack of adequate infrastructure for walking and cycling, which are the most environmentally-friendly transport modes, also contributes to increased vehicle use. Figure 2.6 shows the relative space required to accommodate people driving cars, using buses or cycling, with clear implications for transport strategy and planning.

The relatively high growth in passenger car sales reveals that people put a high preference on car ownership as they become more affluent. Moreover, there has been a shift to heavier cars, equipped with an increasing number of energy demanding features (for example air conditioning and power windows), which add to a greater than expected growth in energy use by the transport sector.

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