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21 Sep, 2009

Tourism NGOs Mobilise For Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Travel & tourism watchdog groups are mobilising to get their voices heard at the last two rounds of the upcoming climate change conferences in Bangkok and Copenhagen.

The effort is being spearheaded by two church-backed groups, the Chiang Mai-based Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism and the German-based Tourism Watch which will be coordinating a series of side events during the first round of UN talks in Bangkok between 27 September – 9 October.

According to an ECOT announcement, a workshop on ‘Climate justice and Tourism’ will be organised on October 2 aimed at raising awareness about the link between tourism and climate change and the impact on grassroots communities

The outcomes of this workshop will be presented during a broader event being organised by non-governmental organisations on 3 October to produce a “People’s Protocol on Climate Change.”

On 4 October, ECOT will convene a South Consultative meeting where experts on climate change and tourism will draft an input paper to be presented at the final round of the climate change talks in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The basic policy positions of the tourism watchdog groups are outlined in a paper entitled “Climate Change, Tourism and Social Justice — Some Reflections from the South” authored by Dr. T T Sreekumar, Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and co-founder and honorary editor of the portal Kerala Tourism Watch.

The paper argues that both Global tourism and domestic tourism are deeply interlinked and “pose serious threats to the livelihood options of local communities. They also have enormous impacts on carbon emissions and consequently on global warming.”

Says the paper, “In most discussions, the complicity of the national capital and conspicuous consumption of the new middle class does not get adequate attention although it is both politically and economically a significant phenomenon to reckon with. It is our experience that the local struggles against exploitative tourism will have to strategically respond to the new phenomenon.

“What is also less debated is the localized impact of climate changes, particularly how local communities will be impacted and in the eventuality of erupting disasters, how they would be able to cope with the problem of social and economic reconstruction.”

According to Prof Sreekumar, “Tourism is an industry that affects the life of common people in a multitude of ways. Tourism industry initially attempted to create the self image of a victim of climate change. Concerns were mostly regarding the likely threats that climate change held out to the sustainability of tourism destinations.

“But subsequent research and introspection rightly highlighted the role of sending markets in aggravating the negative impacts of tourism on climate change. The patterns of consumption at home and abroad by citizens and manufacturers in Northern countries have been under scrutiny by the developing world for their lion share of contribution to CO2 emissions, ever since the discourse on climate change began to take root.”

He adds, “Trends such as increased air traffic from North to South, forced liberalization of third world economies for supporting conspicuous consumption of tourists by way of over expanding luxury hotels, overcrowding of infrastructure facilities in tourism destinations and diversion of local resources for meeting demands of tourism industry have all aggravated in recent years.

“All these factors have a long term nefarious impact on climate change with disastrous consequences for local communities.”

Although climate change affects everyone, Prof Sreekumar says that “the injustice is quite apparent. Carbon emissions of the North are far higher per person than from the Global South. Unfortunately, the impact of Northern-induced climate change – due to ‘luxury emissions’ from global trade and tourism – is far more tangible and visible in the South.”

“While Global Tourism significantly contributes to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, through emissions from transport, accommodation and related activities, the solutions mooted by the industry have been inadequate and irresponsible.”

Prof Sreekumar says that although the tourism industry is excited by the emergence of China and India as major generators of outbound travellers in future, the environmental aspect of this new mass movement has not been calculated.

He says that liberalization and globalization have brought highly skewed impacts on wealth and welfare of the people (of India and China), has resulted in deep changes in consumption patterns, lifestyles and world outlook. This has created new demands for travel and tourism in developing countries.

“It is likely that it has increased the burden of destinations in other developing countries themselves.”

Concludes Dr Sreekumar, “Sustainable mobility in the newly emerging countries and markets is not an isolated issue. It is closely linked to the imposition of the neo liberal development paradigm in developing countries that the tourism industry has been steadfastly clinging on.

“It raises new questions of inclusion in deliberative democratic practices and also challenges us to redefine the meaning and import of participatory decision making processes in local destinations as well as international negotiations.”

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