Two-weeks of negotiations in November 2015 led to the Paris Agreement. The culmination of 20 years of discussions, concessions and compromises. Is the Paris Agreement an important document to the hospitality industry? Without a doubt. Science-based targets driving the industry decarbonisation efforts are based on the 2°c (1.5°c) threshold as per the agreement.
COP26 in Glasgow will see countries submitting new or updated targets which is an integral component of the Agreement. A good time to take stock of how much (or little) has been achieved since 2015. Despite the pandemic, the International Energy Agency predicts that emissions are on course to surge, reversing the 2020 decline (-5.8%) due to the pandemic [1, 2]. No wonder many are asking: when are we going to get it right? .
It is with desperation that reports [4, 5] are published indicating that some large, global corporations with proclaimed climate commitment, are actively impeding stricter legislations (on fuel, carbon etc.) through lobbying. Regulation is a core component (as many argued and discussed here a few months ago: Sustainability-driven legislation: setting the right conditions for hospitality?) to ensuring a level-playing field as it is sending a decisive message that climate emergency must be dealt with, with all tools we have available.
For hotel development and operations, it is a mixed bag which can actually lead to new opportunities. In the bag are the regulatory and transition risks for inefficient assets, imminent carbon market systems for buildings, a decreasing costs of capital for sustainability-driven investment and access to cheaper technologies (e.g. market for photovoltaic).
So from your stance, experience and position, why is COP26 important? Why should our industry care? There has been talk also in this panel (see The (Green) Recovery Imperative: Hospitality Re-Set Or Bouncing Forward?) about post-COVID-19 green recovery. Is this happening and can COP26 foster this somehow?
-  IEA (2021). Global CO2 emissions rebound by nearly 5% in 2021, approaching the 2018-2019 peak. International Energy Agency: Global Energy Review 2021. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2021/co2-emissions
-  IEA (21 April, 2021). Global carbon dioxide emissions are set for their second-biggest increase in history. International Energy Agency. https://www.iea.org/news/global-carbon-dioxide-emissions-are-set-for-their-second-biggest-increase-in-history
-  DW News (24 September, 2021). Fridays for Future demand an end to empty promises. Deutsche Welle News. https://www.dw.com/en/fridays-for-future-demand-an-end-to-empty-promises/av-59303592
-  Milman, O. (01 October, 2021). Apple and Disney among companies backing groups against US climate bill. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/oct/01/apple-amazon-microsoft-disney-lobby-groups-climate-bill-analysis
-  CERES (2021). Despite ambitious corporate pledges, major U.S. companies shy from climate policy lobbying, new report finds. https://www.ceres.org/news-center/press-releases/despite-ambitious-corporate-pledges-major-us-companies-shy-climate
At this year's 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the most urgent task will be to review the plans for the total decarbonization of global energy supplies by phasing out coal by 2050. As outlined in the IPCC's latest reports on climate change, the decade for action is now. We must act swiftly and in a globally coordinated manner to accelerate change.
For the hospitality industry, an indication on overall targets for decarbonization were set in the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance's Decarbonization report in 2017.. While Net Zero by 2050 seems far away, we must take serious action now if we want to have any chance of reaching our goal of Net Zero or even think about Net Positive.
On this path to Net Zero, 2030 marks an important milestone. The next decade is perhaps our last chance to get climate change under control. To achieve our goal of Net Zero by 2050, we must roughly halve our absolute emissions by 2030. The longer we wait to implement action, the more precarious the situation becomes, and the more drastic any action to counterbalance our impact and footprint will have to be. In other words, we no longer have the luxury of waiting and hoping that technological innovation or carbon capture will halt climate change. To have any chance of success, we must act now, and we must act together.
The best way to really make an impact and to bring along everyone on the journey, is to work as one in a non-competitive way in order to define a basic framework for hotel sustainability. The whole hospitality industry, including stakeholders such as owners and operators must act collectively to develop consistent methodologies and a coherent framework for action. This begins with providing transparency to travelers to increase the demand for green travel. We need to focus collectively not only on the target of Net Zero, but also offer a starting point and a clear pathway to those hotels that are just getting started on their journey, and together accept the challenge of hotel sustainability at scale.
We believe that with a joint effort, it is possible to advance to Net Zero in a non-competitive way, to achieve sustainability in hotels, assisted by leading associations such as the WTTC who can develop a platform with tools, best practices, trainings, etc. . If we can accomplish this as an industry, we stand a chance of meeting our goals and tackling this very real and critical issue that will affect every one of us now and in the future.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 'this is a code red for humanity.' This is no exaggeration as we are seeing the devastating impacts of climate change in every region of the world. Hurricanes are more frequent and more intense, so are the fires, to name a few.
The 2020 pandemic was a stark reminder of how our industry is dependent on nature. When we think about it, the most basic element of the product sold is nature, whether it is experiences like the beach, or a meal in a restaurant, a healthy planet is necessary to support it. Last year also reminded us how our industry is dependent on the movement of people. Travel is key to a successful hospitality industry and to experience the world, one has to fly. Since we cannot escape getting on a plane, we need to use the least polluting methods and when there is no other option carbon offsetting is the way to go.
Why is COP26 important for our industry? At this 26th conference of the parties (COP26), countries will reveal the results of their 6-year efforts to reduce GHG emissions. The hospitality industry is one of the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of a warming planet. Frankly, one of the first ones that will cease to exist if we transition to an unimaginable future of unabated warming of the planet.
The silver lining is that we have entered the decade where we can still take action to avoid such a future. Leaders of the hospitality industry should be at the forefront of sustainability as well as demanding that governments take real action by putting in place the legal framework to facilitate the transition from a carbon-based economy to one fuelled with clean, renewable energy. In addition, there are experts in sustainable hospitality and compliance readily available to be of service.
In the face of this existential threat to life on earth, some governments still have laws in place severely limiting the amount of renewable energy that can be produced within their territories! Others have laws impeding the expansion of electric vehicles. Imagine that; the two major sources of GHG emissions warming the planet energy production and transportation!
Two important outcomes of COP26 are serious mandates of GHG reductions, with consequences if targets are not met and disbursement of the $100 billion per year to help developing countries which was to be released by 2020.
COP is a catalyst for action and an annual demonstration of the importance of working together if we are to have a meaningful impact on the climate change crisis. It was instrumental in uniting almost 200 countries behind the Paris Agreement, and this need for collective dialogue and action remains more important now than ever.
No industry is exempt. Tourism CO2 emissions grew at least 60% from 2005 to 2016, and the travel and tourism industry has a critical role in limiting its carbon emissions. Hospitality is an industry that's particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change such as extreme weather and water shortages. With customers becoming increasingly environmentally conscious alongside other parts of the hospitality value chain such as investors and booking agents, emissions are not something that the recovering industry can afford to overlook.
COP26 will bring an increased focus on climate change and provide a valuable opportunity for the world to come together, take stock and make high-level plans. It is equally crucial however that we are making significant action in the interim. Ambitious commitments need to be supported with concrete and robust implementation plans. This year's IPCC report finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the goal of limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
At this year's COP, we welcome the latest initiatives and methodologies that will support and accelerate the decarbonisation of the hospitality industry. Our aim, as leaders in driving sustainability across the hospitality industry, is to create a holistic and practical pathway for sustainable hospitality to co-ordinate and build on the existing tools and initiatives. Through this we can ensure that the increased focus can be harnessed into tangible action by all hotels, wherever they are on their sustainability journey, towards net positive hospitality.
 UNWTO, (2019) https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/epdf/10.18111/9789284416660
2 IPCC (2021) https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/
It is undeniable that climate change is threatening the health and fundamental livelihoods of our communities around the world today. While climate science data can feel massive and overwhelming, there are many tangible actions businesses in the travel and tourism industry can take to drive meaningful positive change in the sector.
Some key findings from the latest IPCC report earlier this year report that:
Ocean levels have risen 8 inches on average over the past century, and the rate of increase has doubled since 2006.
The last decade is quite likely the hottest the planet has been in 125,000 years.
The world's glaciers are melting and receding at a rate “unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.”
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have not been this high in at least 2 million years.
Global surface temperature was 1.09C higher in the decade between 2011-2020 than between 1850-1900.
The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850.
Since the Paris Agreement was signed six years ago, the impacts of climate change have only increased in severity and have become more visible to communities around the world. This is due in no small part to the fact that climate change is now impacting wealthy nations unlike it ever has before.
Globally, one billion people live less than 10 meters above the current high tide, meaning that nearly 13% of the global population is at risk of facing significant sea level rise impacts in the near future (Nature). Floods in Germany, fires in Siberia, and smoke from fires reaching as far north as the North Pole are only a few of many new records experienced this year. In New York City this summer, floods shutdown transportation including train systems and highways! The situation now in New Orleans following Hurricane Ida is painfully clear, showing that history will repeat itself and disproportionately impact marginalized communities if we don't justly plan for the future.
Fundamentally, we have learned that climate change is a HUMAN issue and we need inclusive and human-centric solutions to address it. We must learn how to coexist with each other, so that we can do the same with our living planet.
COP26 presents an opportunity to renew focus and intention on climate action, and serves as a symbol of hope to our global community that #SolutionsExist and that balance with our natural world is possible. This year, even the sports industry has added their voice in rallying to express the need for urgent action and is investing attention into the COP26 dialogues.
With regard to the tourism sector, the recent World Tourism Day Forum hosted by CREST, highlighted the Glasgow Declaration: a Commitment to a Decade of Tourism Climate Action as a primary way for travel and tourism stakeholders to take united climate action towards a collective goal of keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees. The Glasgow Declaration aligns on five shared pathways to follow including:
- Measuring emissions associated with travel and tourism
- Reducing cross-sector emissions from transportation to waste management
- Regenerating ecosystems that can rebalance our climate and support livelihoods
- Collaborating across all sectors and at all levels
- Investing sufficient financial resources and capacity to realize the goals set forth
While the need for strong and urgent action to defend the health of our communities and future generations is clear, as we approach the dialogues in Glasgow, the threat of false solutions and biased “lobbying” looms. Reports reveal that powerful nations are lobbying against fundamental objectives of the COP26 conference including the need to move away from fossil fuels, financially support poorer states through this transition, and reduce reliance on large-scale animal agriculture (BBC). Although the proceedings of the IPCC are impartial, these lobbying attempts indicate a lack of consensus on the solutions needed.
Along those lines, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives has launched a “Plastic Fuels the Climate Crisis” campaign urging all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to avoid false climate solutions. Rather than allow plastic incineration, unproven chemical recycling, and the continued production of fossil fuel-based plastics in petrochemical facilities, the coalition urges parties to support community-driven zero waste solutions that secure green jobs, stimulate local economies, and reduce climate and air pollution. Beyond Plastic's recent and timely report “The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change” highlights the significant contribution of the plastics industry to the climate crisis. The report indicates that the U.S. plastic industry's contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in the country by 2030.
As we consider how to adapt the travel and tourism industry to meet the challenge of climate change, it is important to consider the role that plastic and waste plays in contributing to our broader climate crisis. Throughout the value chain from when oil and gas is extracted through the manufacturing of plastic at petrochemical facilities and ultimately through consumption and disposal, the plastic industry releases greenhouse gas emissions and many other harmful toxins that pollute the air and water of disproportionately low-income fenceline communities.
The tourism sector has the power to take action by reducing reliance on single-use plastics that are habitually used in foodservice, accommodations, and hospitality. Support local economies by investing in local products with minimal packaging, participating in networks of reuse, and opting for repurposed materials. Reduce waste generated on-site including food waste, and divert organics by composting. Organic waste such as food scraps decompose slowly in landfills and emit methane, a greenhouse gas more than 25 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide (U.S. EPA). This can be avoided by properly composting organic waste and creating nutrient rich soil amendments that can nourish the soil, support food security, and prevent erosion. These solutions and many more do exist, and the tourism sector can step up as a leader in the climate movement to demonstrate the action that travelers are demanding and starting to expect. According to a forthcoming global study of more than 27,000 respondents by GlobeScan and BBMG, Radically Better Future: The Next Gen Reckoning Report, six in ten respondents under age 30 say the priority for the post-pandemic recovery should be restructuring society to deal with challenges including inequality and climate change, rather than just getting our economy back to normal as soon as possible.
Oceanic Global recently launched our Blue Standard (Blue) to empower global industries and businesses of all sizes to achieve measurable impact that protects our blue planet, and to establish universal accountability for sustainable business leadership. Blue offers a 3-Star verification for business operations in the tourism and hospitality sector alongside open-source resources, step-by-step auditing and consultation support, and buying deals with vetted vendors to help businesses eliminate single-use plastics and operate sustainably.
The code red for nature and gas emissions has been raised for decades, however, as the deadline of the SDG goals approaches fast, a 2050 mindset has transformed all laggards into doers with GenerationZ-ers leading the change.
As world leaders flock to address the topic October-end, negotiate and make pledges and announce initiatives, it's the Greta Thunberg's of the world and the young generation that leads the actual changes and demonstrates daily how to live in compliance ensuring a Greener Planet. We are in the business of Travel and Human connections – hence green gas emissions from cutting down flights are not the focal points of our sustainability agendas. In addition to engaging the young professionals to help us drive a more sustainable business and operations, we need to ensure a future outlook for our industry rests on the Local supply chain, cutting down unnecessary supplies flown from the other hemisphere, FF&E that fits a sustainable- oriented property and have support with/for the local farmers, products and manufacturers.
Then policy papers would take back seat to more authentic green operations, and commitments will become actions with real impact on climate change. The industry collaborations – away from talks – will be led by the future generations, their innovative thinking and ideas. We have decided to support and join the Sustainable Hospitality Challenge led by Hotelschool The Hague for this reason – it brings together the brightest young minds in hospitality to come up with a new idea that is then presented to C-Suite decision makers from global hospitality Groups, who have the chance to invest in it and make it a reality. This roadmap has already come to fruition with Accor's Chairman on stage a big hospitality forum in Dubai last month. The winning competition idea says it all: Community-centric co-living lifestyle opportunities based on local engagement that capitalize on the shared economic value. Isn't this what our industry needs to implement more of?
Cop26 in my mind is important to the world community as whole, not for any industry in particular, although its outcomes will of course have a more immediate impact on some sectors than others.
However, the key achievement needs to be that further commitments and concessions towards decarbonisation will be made by world leaders and that we are not left with another round of empty promises and disappointing statements.
For us in the travel and hospitality sector these commitments will be particularly important as they will have various effects:
- Protection of more vulnerable countries, such as far-away islands states, which are threatened by increasing sea levels. Given that these countries are often dependent on tourism as an income and therefore tourism depended on them to further exist, this matters particular to the industry, apart from the obvious catastrophic loss it would mean for so many communities were this not to happen.
- Frameworks for the industry to ensure our pathways to net carbon zero are transparently progressed and we can continue the efforts to align all stakeholders to come aboard this 'ship' and journey
- The assignment of environmental stewardship and conservational protectionism with key monetary recognition as the tourism industry could then pivot into a leading role of protecting natural assets which are also tourism assets and some of the world's most important nature reserves (the Arctic regions, Galapagos islands, Africa's National Parks to mention only but a few, but also any natural areas closer to home tourist like to visit)
These areas not only play a huge role in conserving biodiversity and the protection of endangered species but can, in many cases, also act as much needed carbon sinks and storage, therefore have multiple positive roles to play in the bigger picture of climate change. Hence, our role as tourism businesses could be changed from that of being perceived as 'polluters', due to the emissions linked to travel, to that of stewards of the world's key environmental heritage sites, with a positive impact, if that role were to be embedded in the broader Cop26 commitments.
And last but not least, I see Cop26 as a huge opportunity for the big bodies of our industry, namely the WTTC, the UNWTO and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, coming together to give our sector a unified voice as well as presence in these important global discussions. A much-needed alliance, as hospitality and tourism businesses, despite representing 11% of global GDP has not been adequately involved or represented in any of the major climate conferences in the past.
What do we need to achieve according to the official COP 26 website, four country objectives adapted to the hospitality industry (1) :
1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
In collaboration investors and operators need to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century thanks to clear objectives, action plans and KPIs.
2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
In collaboration with local authorities and communities, hotel investors and operators need to actively protect and restore ecosystems surrounding their properties, but also contribute to building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and favour local and responsible agriculture to avoid loss of their businesses, livelihoods and even lives.
3. Mobilise finance
Together, lenders and investors have to support hotel groups in shifting their priorities to long term investments and decisions to secure global net zero over short term revenues and profits.
4. Work together to deliver
As per 1, 2 and 3, collaborate, communicate and challenge each other within the industry - from investors to operators, from young to older generation, from front staff to CEOs, from local communities to guests - to shift together toward a mindset and perspective that are adapted to the current climate emergency.
We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together as an industry that is in a unique position to create new travel dreams, different desirable food experiences and purposeful working conditions all around the world.
(Text in italics comes from COP26 official website)
The COP26 website defines its importance in one line:
The hospitality industry cannot afford not to care about what is discussed and decided in Glasgow.
One particular line from Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, resonates with the concept of Responsible Tourism, that “climate change is global, but adaptation is local”.
This echoes the very pillar of RT by confirming that action taken at a local level is what really generates change. We know that the combination of involving local communities and working out what the most important challenges are in a given destination, is ultimately what creates better places to live in and to visit.
The main pillars of COP26 - mitigation, adaptation, and development – are exactly what the industry has been doing for the last 18 months to build resilience for our post-pandemic future. A huge amount of energy, drive, and focus already exists, so when political will becomes focused and serious about getting things done instead of just creating another action plan, then we cannot fail to see positive benefits.
The sharing of best practice, applying expertise where it is most needed, granting funding, and providing systems to follow, is what the industry really needs. So, yes, what is decided at COP26 will impact positively, and it is our job to remind, and remind again, how important our industry is, not only in terms of GDP input, but also for collective human wellbeing.
Many of us working in our climate/sustainability "silos" know that the GOP26 message is critical and true: to prevent irreversible global warming, we need - as a bare minimum - transparent, whole life science aligned measurement and clear pathways for ALL to decarbonise.
The solutions are there for immediate action – owners, investors, developers and operators of hotel properties now do not even need prior ESG knowledge to start the journey and enact impactful and immediate change.
But it is important that we sit back and understand why - if it was that simple - change is not happening fast enough, and why the hotel sector is truly the laggard of all laggards in taking climate action and addressing the significant risk to its long term viability.
The most common perceived barriers to action in the real economy are around costs and feasibility. The alarming conclusion on the financing of sustainable solutions is that the market is underserved because of a lack of DEMAND, not because of a lack of cost effective and actionable solutions!
The key takeaway is that whatever is agreed in COP26 needs to be much more than commitment and efficiency - and critically need to address accessibility and whole value chain collaboration, if we - as "experts" - are to really make the exponential impact required to reverse global warming.
I would question any “solution”, “certification” or “commitment” that plays climate for marketing or commercial self-advancing, and which either is not rooted in science or lacks the holistic understanding of what real climate action is all about.
Tourism not only faces greater risks to climate impacts than other sectors, it is also one of the factors driving climate change. Tourism is a rapidly growing sector that is expected to increase rather than reduce emission levels according to the UNWTO's report on "Transport-related CO2 emissions from the tourism sector".
Accelerating climate action in tourism is therefore of utmost importance for the resilience of the sector. Climate action is understood as the efforts to measure and reduce GHG emissions and strengthen adaptive capacity to climate induced impacts.
The global nature of COP26 is what makes it important, because tackling climate change issues and reducing emissions can only be achieved when everyone is on-board, including the tourism industry. What would I recommend world leaders to agree and commit to in regards to tourism climate actions?:
1. Encourage measurement and transparent communication of carbon emissions in the tourism industry
2. Improve incentives for tourism businesses that implement climate actions
3. Think beyond emissions by placing greater emphasis on climate risk management through adaptation and mitigation strategies
4. Establish indicators to measure tourism sector and destination adaptive capacity
The importance of COP26 for the hospitality industry is the reinforcement of a global commitment to reducing carbon emissions. The major global lodging companies have generally committed to a 30% reduction in Carbon Emissions by 2030, detailed in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports and pages on their web sites. In particular, Marriott International, Hilton International and Accor provide an overview of the impact of the global efforts by lodging companies. Currently Marriott International Hotels has a global presence in 138 countries with 7,700 hotels across 30 hotel brands and a loyalty program numbering 150 million members. Hilton International offers 18 brands in 119 countries with 1,019,287 hotel rooms in 6,478 hotels. Accor is present in 110 countries with 5,200 hotels representing 762,100 hotel rooms in 30 brands. Together these three major global hospitality companies represent a significant view of what the impact of combined 30% carbon emissions reduction efforts can achieve. On September 22nd, Marriott International announced that it has set a target to reach net-zero value chain green house gas emissions no later than 2050. All 3 hospitality companies have made a very clear and purposeful commitment to reducing the overall environmental impact of their hotel operations across the globe.
COP26 provides the lodging industry with a validation of their commitments to reduce carbon emissions and the impacts to the financial market and customers. Investors looking for companies that evidence the results of sustainability and environmental efforts will find such in the corporate social responsibility reports of these three global hospitality leaders. Marriott International has a loyalty program numbering over 150 million members. Loyal customers who want sustainability programs evidenced by the hotels in which they stay are a force that cannot be overlooked. The outcomes of COP26 will reinforce customer commitment to sustainability.
The attention to COP26 and commitments to further reduce carbon emissions by the attending countries will support the efforts of the hospitality industry and help companies to justify further investments and efforts in achieving published goals. The impacts of a global pandemic and devastating climate change related weather events are illustrating to the world that there is a force of nature that must be addressed in how we responsibly operate businesses as members of the global community.
Climate change has already impacted the travel industry from increased operational costs to less predictable tourism patterns; rising temperatures have led ski resorts to shorten their seasons or use artificial snow-making, and rising sea level and beach erosion are endangering coastal vacation spots. As a planet, we are inching towards irreversible impacts from a travel and tourism perspective. Every move countries and economies take in the direction of sustainability is important for our industry and our planet. To that end, COP26 will be key in reigniting discussions and securing commitments from participating countries to reduce carbon emissions.
Clear environmental legislation can provide a roadmap for sound business decisions around operations and cost. Decisions such as whether to develop a new property in a climate-sensitive location or to upgrade an existing hotel to be more self-sustainable can be better guided with a solid framework of regulations, policies, and standards.
Although we've seen some corporations backtrack in their commitment to sustainability in the private sector, billions of dollars are moving towards investments in digital technologies such as AI and Machine learning that will promote better resource allocation, waste management, and help curb our carbon footprint.
In the hospitality sector, brands are already turning to digital technology from mobile apps to back-of-house management systems to help save energy and reduce operating costs, such as occupancy sensing thermostats, in-room light sensors, and predictive equipment maintenance software. Using mobile apps, hotels can provide guests the option of not having towels and sheets washed in order to conserve water and save costs. New AI technologies are currently being utilized to reduce food waste by analyzing food left on a plate and using the data to influence its buying decisions. Utilizing technology that is already available across millions of rooms across the planet can make a big difference towards a net zero carbon goal. Government incentives for lower energy use should further accelerate technology advancements and adoption.
COP26 is perhaps the last chance for multilateral negotiations to drive change for good. It is hard to think in two more years without deciding on carbon pricing, carbon markets, green bonds, and other climate financing solutions that are pending consensus, regulation etc..
It is also hard to think ( experiencing COVID 19 worldwide) of more appropriate conditions for authorities to commit and, more importantly, take action to break the status and lead change towards renewable energy and a green economy and a new generation of technologies facing out the fossil fuel industry.
The tourism industry is responsible for around 8% of GEF emissions. Tourism should also engage and lead, recognizing that natural landscapes, ecosystems, biodiversity, peace are fundamental aspects of long-term tourism growth and job creation.
Undermining these assets generates uncertainty for traveling and investments. There is no more time available, we need to embrace change, and COP26 should play a catalytic role, raising the bar for climate action worldwide.
Cop26 is critically important – but it shouldn't be.
Cop26 is a watershed moment and critical to our future for two important reasons:
1. It is an opportunity to share the latest research on the climate crisis broadly. The IPCC has already released elements of its latest reports. Organizations around the world are releasing reports on the projected impacts of climate change on all aspects of life. In the US we've had government reports on impacts on health, security, food production. Businesses and business organizations are reporting on the anticipated impacts on the economy. None of this news is good – but forewarned should be forearmed.
2. It is a time to renew commitment. COP26 is an opportunity for nations to commit to the actions they will take to address this existential crisis. The event is catalyzing other organizations to make commitments as well. The tourism industry has developed the Glasgow Declaration – a commitment by businesses to act to mitigate climate change. A behavioral economist would call this call to action a “commitment device” knowing that a public commitment to action often helps ensure that promised action actually takes place.
The problem is that Cop26 shouldn't be all that important.
While we will get much new information in the coming weeks, it has been clear for a long time that achieving greenhouse Gas reductions that ensure warming is below 1.5°C is extremely ambitious given the current effort. The new reports and research won't change the basic fact that action is necessary.
And while a global commitment device to support action needed to survive the existential challenge of climate change is welcomed, greater effort should already be happening.
Finally – it is important that we - the tourism industry - don't get distracted by the marginal activities at the expense of the truly impactful. There is much we can do - and the Glasgow Declaration is an admirable and worthy initiative. BUT Tourism also needs to use all its influence to change the whole system in which we operate. We need to demand energy production transitions to renewables, that policies (research funding, incentives for commercialization, etc.) support electrification of transportation and development on non-GHG dependent aviation, and building construction regulations and practices reduce GHG production.
COP26 is important, because if we ALL don't finally take action against climate change, things will get tight.
But what is even more important is the COP15. Am I too late or did I get the numbers mixed up? No, from October 11 - 15 the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (the CBD) will take place - and there, unlike with climate change, it is not about the question "how will we live in the future?" but about the question "will we live in the future?"
Summits although not a panacea offer unique opportunities for lobbying to steer regulation for the benefit of one industry versus another. The problem with our hospitality industry is that it rarely had a unified voice in any one country let alone in many (as needed for an effective lobbying voice in this summit). Having said that the pandemic has been a catalyst that has brought together hospitality organisations and operators as no other catalyst could do before. New leaders have emerged and a new level of hospitality lobbying with inspirational leaders has emerged so I am hopeful that this opportunity will not go to waste. Already 80% of the food served at COP26 is sourced locally and that is an important message but one that needs to be consistent and replicated across many facets of our industry, not just the summit! A key element for this is regulation! But beyond food, this is an opportunity to promote climate action innovation for all of the hospitality sectors. The pandemic marked the beginning of an evolutionary stage for hospitality. COP26 is one of those markers in the new evolutionary path of our industry that has been brought to its knees. Frankly, we have little choice its evolution or extinction and I like many others believe it's prudent that we chose the first!
The hospitality industry has tried hard for long to live in its own bubble, feeling that until recently, the pressure (from customers and other stakeholders) to become genuinely sustainable was not high enough.
Times have changed dramatically, alongside the realization that changing mindsets, processes and technologies to drastically reduce negative operational impacts was no longer a question of IF, but of WHEN.
I personally have little hope about the outcome of the COP26 for the hospitality in particular, but I certainly count on a growing level of awareness about the damages that hospitality and tourism in general will endure if we do not cut our emission dramatically, in order to review the way it operates.
Until hotels owners, top corporate executives and board of investors in global tourism companies are not setting compulsory targets to reach, with control and incentive mechanisms, i don't forsee the rapid and profound change that is so badly needed.
Although the objective of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C seems increasingly unlikely, it is still standing. COP26 will thus be all about accelerated efforts on a national level in the format of stricter Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The pressure is high, especially on those countries righteously asked to lead the way to a decarbonized future. With Biden's Climate Plan just taking a major hit and the global economy in turmoil, the world is in urgent need of precise and strong signals towards net zero. Those signals will resonate in our industry - perhaps most probably as risk mitigation strategies. Risks, especially with regards to energy prices and asset devaluation, might have more activation potential than (business) opportunities, especially for those for whom a net zero world is still the stuff of science fiction. At the same time, hospitality companies that have been investing into regenerative power generation as early adopters are right now benefitting massively from rising utility prices. Their competitive advantage will be difficult to catch-up with.
Climate change mitigation is tourism's new imperative. COP26 will set the framework. While this will undoubtedly force many tourism businesses to think differently (the cost of energy/emissions will increase), this is a challenge and an opportunity. Consumers expect the sector to act on climate change, and being a frequent air traveller is no longer seen as altogether desirable. Early adopters will profit, and COP26 is thus an opportunity for everyone (big or small) to look into halving emissions by 2030, with a view to net-zero by mid-century.
We tend to associate sustainability in the hospitality industry with the building side of things and how efficiencies in construction and operations can help reduce carbon emissions. However, the spectrum of the hospitality impact on sustainability is much wider and touches communities, landscape, agriculture, protection of local resources. In that more holistic concept, and taking an optimistic view, the COP26 associated with the UN SDGs offers an interesting framework for the hospitality industry to improve and embrace the leadership role it should have in the global economy.
With the lives that it touches as guests, employees and communities and its socio-economic and environmental impact, the hospitality industry has a role to play in spreading and implementing the COP26 message and action points. There is a space for hospitality champions to play a crucial role in their respective country to push forward and maintain the momentum after the COP26, making sure that goals are set and objectives reached.
Destinations are the attractive point of our industry. Communities are our workforce. Food is what nourishes our guests. Buildings are our shelters. Caring for these elements is caring for the future of the industry, its perennity and legacy to the generations to come. Despite the frustrations, supporting the COP26 is an important tool in helping our planet and enforcing governmental action.
Strapped for time? Five Pages to be on Top of Climate Issues
COP26 is at our door and it is time to take stock of where we stand and why this next round of talks is important (or not).
The scientific community is supporting the production of one report after the next on the state of affairs with the planetary vital signs from the Dasgupta Review(1) and the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report(2) earlier this year. However, for those strapped for time but still wishing to be on top of our planet's health, a great 5-pages summary is the World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021(3) recently published in BioScience.
16 climate-related variables linked to global human activities are tracked and presented in a set of time-series graphs including per capita meat production, energy consumption, global tree cover loss, per capita CO2 emissions, or fossil fuel subsidies for example. Another set of climate-related responses are presented such as sea level changes, ice mass changes or surface temperature for example.
It is not a surprise that records are being set on many mega issues such as greenhouse gasses concentration, surface and ocean temperature. As discussed before, the drop in carbon emissions during year 2020 (-6.4% compared to 2019(4)) was short lived with emissions being back to the same or even greater levels from 2019(5). The World Meteorological Organization compiled a report(5) with the latest on climate science information and comes to the following conclusion: “The scale of recent changes across the climate system as a whole and the present state of many aspects of the climate system are unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years” (5).
So, why is COP26 important and why should our industry care?
Without discussing to the obvious (access to a healthy planet for everyone) and without the technicalities behind COP26 (governmental commitment via ratchet mechanism), it's really down to five points:
1. Investors – ESG performance as a standard requirement, accelerated access to green finance market
2. Guests – increased interest in compelling evidence of sustainable actions
3. Employees – a generation with careers that are part of a climate solution (and not climate exacerbation)
4. Owners & Operators – decarbonisation as asset value preservation & risk management to an improved triple-bottom line
5. Governments - increased regulations and availability of decarbonisation incentives
The consequence: we all have a stake in what is happening in Glasgow. However, and independently of the COP26 outcome, the private sector cannot and should not solely rely on government interventions (regulatory or otherwise) to achieve ambitious decarbonisation in the next nine years to 2030.
Ingenuity, commitment and holistic thinking are needed.
Exit the Anthropocene and enter the Symbiocene.
(1) Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, London: HM Treasury. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-of-biodiversity-the-dasgupta-review
(2) IPCC (2021). AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Sixth Assessment Report. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
(3) Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T.M. et al. (2021). World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021. BioScience, 9, 894–898, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab079
(4) Tollefson, J. (2021). COVID curbed carbon emissions in 2020 — but not by much. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00090-3
(5) WMO (2021). United in Science 2021. World Meteorological Organization. https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/united_in_science
Awareness for environmentally-friendly practices and products has long reached the hospitality and tourism industries.
Travellers' increasing expectations for sustainable offers, including accommodation, transportation and catering, have played a vital part in the green transformation that has reached numerous individual enterprises in the tourism sector.
The GreenSign certification alone has reached a peak in the number of hotels certified over the last year in Germany and Europe, and we see that the wish for eco-friendly corporate governance is leading more and more people in managing positions to reach out to sustainability consultants or certifiers.
Nevertheless, in order to reach the 1,5degree climate goal on a global level, political assertiveness and prioritization of climate matters is more important than ever. We are running out of time and need our governments' support to meet the climate goals on a larger scale. The participation, cooperation and strong teamwork of all leading nations is required and only together we can make an impactful change.
We are in urgent need of ambitious top-down commitments and mandates on carbon emissions, as the bottom-up approach clearly has not been sufficient to achieve widespread action. Bold targets at the national level with clear and detailed action plans, alongside carrots and sticks, could influence investment, legislation, standards and practice. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Like other industries, Hospitality has a responsibility to manage its impact on our planet. The opportunity exists for the industry to not just reactively respond to the new more stringent local and national environmental policies and penalties, but to actively demonstrate how it's done through hospitable environments and tourist destinations. COP26 will be focusing on the built environment for this year's 26th edition and will launch the virtual exhibition, 'Build Better Now'. A global list of 17 pioneering solutions to climate change will be showcased and several featured projects are directly related to hospitality or travel destinations which clearly respond to the climate emergency. Two of the short-listed projects that protect and enhance nature include a government-led eco-tourism initiative to restore a national park in Rwanda and the tallest timber building in the world that functions as a combination cultural centre and hotel in Northern Sweden.
COP26 and the 'Build Better Now' exhibition is a source of inspiration for how asset owners and hoteliers can possibly lead the way to managing impact on our planet. Demonstrating, educating and informing guests – through their own operations – on the planning of energy-positive resorts, buildings powered by renewable resources, construction using local materials, regeneration and rewilding of the land of the surrounding landscapes.