Cop26: Saudi Arabia seeks role in tourist industry's green overhaul

Kingdom's hub of expertise will boost travel companies' efforts to reach net zero

Saudi Arabia's Umluj is home to over 100 untouched islands. Photo: STA
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Tourism bosses have used the Cop26 summit to pledge a green transformation of the industry by 2050, with Saudi Arabia hoping to lead the way by opening a hub of expertise in the kingdom.

The summit heard that tourism-reliant countries will feel the full force of climate change if it is not kept in check, threatening the coasts and natural wonders that attract visitors from around the world.

Speaking in Glasgow, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said the industry needed its future growth to be in harmony with protecting the planet.

He said the kingdom’s planned Sustainable Tourism Global Centre would offer “best-in-class guidance and expertise” and bring together governments and industry leaders.

The centre will allow tourism bosses to “learn from the best minds on sustainability and to share related knowledge and best practices”, he said.

“Tourism is undoubtedly a vital industry for the global economy. The tourist industry, it goes without saying, wants to be part of the solution”, the minister said.

“We will need to take urgent and strong action now to limit the impact of climate change.

“Critically, it will enable us to make these changes while at the same time providing jobs and driving growth.”

Saudi Arabia plans to invest more than $1 trillion in the tourism sector over the next 10 years, the minister announced last month.

Net zero promise

The Glasgow Declaration launched separately by industry figures on Thursday promises to halve tourism's emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

Emissions linked to the industry are thought to account for about 5 per cent of all CO2 output, says the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which supports the initiative.

“The window of opportunity to rethink and reform our sector is closing,” said UNWTO chief Zurab Pololikashvili, and the pledge was a “tool to help bridge the gap between good intentions and meaningful climate action".

Signatories to the manifesto include hotel chains, tour operators, aviation bosses and national tourism boards, who say they will put more focus on protecting ecosystems.

They said they would seek a green recovery from the pandemic, which devastated the tourism sector as travel restrictions were imposed.

“Restoring nature — and our relationship with it — will be key to our sector’s recovery from the pandemic, as well as its future prosperity and resilience”, their declaration says.

“Committing to and planning for a green recovery offers us a unique opportunity to transform the sector in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

Felipe Calderon, who was president of Mexico when it hosted the Cop16 summit in 2010, raised the alarm over the impact of climate change on tourism.

He said extreme temperatures would put tourists at risk while degrading the natural environments that lure them to travel abroad.

Coastal tourism is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, he said, with natural attractions like jungles and savannahs rapidly degrading.

In addition, many countries are concerned that climate change could trigger conflicts and political instability in fragile nations.

Gloria Guevara, a special adviser to the Saudi minister, described the sustainability centre as an example of concrete action in the sector.

“No one can do it alone. That’s why today, we are writing a new chapter in our sector”, she said.

“The goal is to say: the more that I can go on holidays, the better it will be for the planet too. It has to be good for climate, good for nature and good for communities too.”

Updated: November 04, 2021, 12:47 PM