Tackling Climate Change On Day 3 At WTM London

The 40th edition of WTM London began with a session exploring Decarbonising Travel and Tourism: Is the Industry Doing Enough? Speaking by video before the main panel, climate scientist professor Kevin Anderson laid out the scale of the challenge. He said that since the first IPCC report into climate change, there has been almost three decades of “abject failure” to reduce our emissions.

“If we include our international emissions, such as from aviation, shipping, imports and exports, we see that supposedly climate progressive nations such as the UK and Scandivian countries have actually made almost no progress,” said Anderson. He added that since tourism is an industry that is more of a luxury than many others, and one that is enjoyed more by the wealthier members of society, therefore it should look to lead much more than it currently does. He called on the industry to eliminate all carbon within a decade.

“We are overdependent on an old fashioned, highly polluting form of transport,” said Justin Francis, Co-founder & CEO, Responsible Travel. “We need to fly less, but everything at World Travel Market here is about growth. We cannot be growing aviation the way we are. We need to fly less. And massively fund decarbonisation.”

Asked what is actually happening in the industry, Madhu Rajesh, Director of the International Tourism Partnership, said that the global hotel chains that her organisation worked with are “beginning to come to the table”, with some setting science-based targets, and others saying they had ambition to set these targets. “We are seeing some examples of practical action,” she said, “but there’s a lot more that can be done.”

“If we wait for consumers to take action then we will be waiting a long time, said Jane Ashton, Director of Sustainability, TUI Group PLC. “There’s a lot of chatter but people aren’t going to forgo their annual holiday. The onus is on us in the industry to make that holiday as sustainable as possible. And the onus is on governments to create the frameworks within which companies can take responsible action.”

“We shouldn’t gamble the future of the planet on the idea that a few more well meaning travellers will fly less,” commented Justin Francis, CEO of “Other industries will look at us, and say how dare you – we are doing our part, why aren’t you?” He said the industry needs to end Frequent Flyer schemes that reward travellers for flying more, and instead introduce a Frequent Flyer Levy, where those that fly more (with 1% of the UK population taking 20% of the flights) pay an escalating fee the more flights they take each year.

Saskia Griep, Founder & CEO, Better Places agreed that the industry can’t wait for tourists to demand change. “We as a company are lobbying our government, We are against the expansion of airports, and for a carbon tax.” she said, explaining that her company isn’t waiting for the government either, but has imposed a carbon tax on themselves, which they are investing directly with a Dutch company called skyNRG that is developing more sustainable aviation fuels.

“People still ask are we in a climate emergency?” said Albert Dalmau, Manager of Economy, Resources and Economic Promotion, City Council of Barcelona. “Of course we are. It’s incredible that we still need to remark that we are in a climate emergency.”

The final event of this year’s World Travel Market responsible tourism programme looked at The Future of Aviation. “If aviation was a country, it would be the seventh largest carbon emitting country on earth, just behind Germany,” said Justin Francis, Co-founder & CEO, Responsible Travel. Furthermore, he added that aviation emissions are forecast to grow 300% by 2050, according to ICAO. In the UK, said Francis, aviation is forecast to be the number one cause of climate emissions by 2050.

Commenting on ICAO, Chris Lyle, CEO, Air Transport Economics said that the organisation has outlined four measures that it believes are needed to address the problem of growing emissions, which are Technology, Operations, Fuels and Offsetting. “All this is only leading towards carbon neutral growth, he said, “whereas we need absolute cuts.”

He said several of the airlines were aiming to be net zero by 2050. “There will be some form of demand management,” he said, “the sooner we get to individuals knowing their carbon impact and responding to it.”

Peter Castellas, CEO, Tasman Environmental Markets, argued in favour of rigorously audited offsetting. “There is a lot of disingenuous ideological rejection of offsetting,” he said. “I get to take money from large corporates and invest it in projects having real impacts. This is a tangible way we can move towards carbon neutrality.”

“We have 10 years to make the actions necessary to stay beneath 1.5 degrees,” said Justin Francis. “All of the science says that the growth in demand will swamp these initiatives. Only reducing demand and flying less will get us there in the timescale we have. We need a fair taxation of aviation, with the funds ploughed back into the solutions.”

“Taxation is coming,” said Chris Lyle, “but it needs to be hypothecated towards developments like sustainable fuels.”