Tourism declares a climate emergency

Responsible Travel, the climate crisis and the last decade

Responsible tourism – when done well – can create many benefits to local communities and help with the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. However, emissions from flying are on the increase. For some time at Responsible Travel, we have grappled with the question: “How can tourism be responsible if we fly?”

We believe we must act urgently to tackle the rising effects of greenhouse gas emissions from our holidays, caused by flying in particular as well as other components of our trips such as the energy used in the places we stay as well as the food we eat. We must find ways to travel more responsibly and to protect the places and people which we - as responsible travellers – hold so dear.

In May 2019, after months of research and collaboration with experts, we launched our manifesto on aviation and the climate crisis. We concluded we needed a three pronged approach:

  1. Urgent system change centred around the introduction of a Green Flying Duty to manage demand by governments around the world. Revenues would be ring fenced for investment into lower carbon transport. We’ve been lobbying hard for this.

  2. Action from our customers and the travelling public to: ‘Fly less and make it count’ – a view we’ve consistently voiced since 2009. We now include information about how to reduce your holiday CO2 on every one of our holiday pages and produced a film on how to curb your carbon. All our holidays can be booked without flights so customers can choose their method of transport.

  3. Action from our tour operator partners. We are working with our operators to promote low carbon holidays which highlight train and overland routes from a transport perspective. We also actively encourage all our partners to choose lower carbon accommodation and food options too.

We are one of the few travel companies who do not support or believe in carbon offsets - we stopped offering them in 2009. We don’t believe they work and think they distract from the urgent need for reduction.

Our declaration for 2020 and beyond

We are founding signatories of which – launched in January 2020 – is a new network of organisations, companies and individuals working in tourism who have come together to join other industries and regions in declaring a climate emergency.

Together we aim to accelerate our own emission reductions in line with the advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which calls for a 55% cut in global carbon emissions below 2017 levels by 2030.

All signatories have committed to the following five actions:

  1. Develop a ‘Climate Emergency Plan’
    Adopted by our Executive board within 12 months of our initial declaration, or sooner.

  2. Share our commitment and progress publicly
    Share our initial public declaration, our ‘Climate Emergency Plan’, and update on progress against our targets each year.

  3. Cut carbon emissions
    Accept current IPCC advice stating the need to cut global carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 in order to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. Ensure our ‘Climate Emergency Plan’ represents actions designed to achieve this as a minimum, through delivering transparent, measurable and increasing reductions in the total carbon emissions rising from your operations and the travel services sold by you.

  4. Work together
    Encourage suppliers and partners to make the same declaration; share best practice amongst peers; and actively participate in the Tourism Declares community.

  5. Advocate for change
    Recognise the need for system change across the industry, and call for urgent regulatory action to accelerate the transition towards zero carbon air travel.

In 2020 and the decade ahead, we commit to continuing our work around the climate crisis – lobbying governments for change, informing travellers and customers on how they can reduce their impacts and working with our tour operator partners to discuss how they can lower the emissions of their holidays.

We have commissioned and released (in 2020) a new study that looks at the carbon components of four of our holidays and concludes that although transport is the number one carbon concern, emissions from the food eaten on holiday - the foo(d)print - can also be very significant.

In the coming years, we’ll be discussing the ideas that fall from this study in greater detail and we’ll also be looking at the issues around tourism and biodiversity too, exploring solutions.