A carbon tax of just $11 would offset the CO2 emissions from tourism, according to a paper in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism.

Every time people go on vacation, or journalists go off to climate conferences like the one in Paris, they are using fossil fuel energy. The total emissions from vacations like that would be the sixth largest emitter of CO2 if it were a country - five percent of total human-made emissions of CO2.   

"A dangerously warming world is not in the best interest of global tourism. Many of peoples' favorite tourism destinations and activities are at risk to climate change, from the ski industry to tropical beaches, from iconic species to cultural heritage. So investing in low-carbon tourism is really in the interests of both the tourism industry and travellers alike," said Professor Daniel Scott, from the University of Waterloo. "We have to ask ourselves, are we willing to pay less than the price of an extra checked bag to ensure future generations can marvel at the sights that inspire us today?"



This infographic shows:

  • the potential reduction in carbon emissions in Mton CO2 if tourism decarbonized, and the increase in emissions if it does not
  • the projected growth of the global tourism industry and the costs to decarbonize
  • what $11 buys travellers in a range of countries
  • sources of CO2 emissions in tourism
  • how tourism emissions compare to emissions of the top 10 CO2 emitting countries

Credit: University of Waterloo

The new study, led by Professor Scott, found that the most cost effective strategy for the tourism industry to meet the United Nations' recommended targets of reducing carbon emissions, includes a combination of strategic energy saving and renewable energy initiatives within the industry and buying carbon offsets from other parts of the global economy where emission reductions can be done at less cost.

"The tourism sector has pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions 50 percent by 2035. Our study demonstrates this is achievable, but will require determined action and significant investment - starting at just under US $1 billion annually in the 2020s," said Scott. "Divided equally among all domestic and international trips that's about a US $11 cost per trip - basically the same price as many modest travel fees and taxes."

Decarbonizing global tourism represents a long-term investment, but given its tremendous growth, the relative cost is less than 0.1 percent of the estimated global tourism economy in 2020 and increases to 3.6 percent in 2050. 

Spending by tourists represents the largest voluntary transfer of wealth in the world. This spending is vital to the economies of many countries and creates up to one in 11 jobs worldwide.

"Tourism is how billions of people explore new places and experience new cultures and the natural wonders of this world every year," said Scott. "Tourism can be a force for immense good, but it needs to be done within the carbon limits being negotiated by world leaders at the UN climate summit in Paris or else it will be regulated to do so."