Environmental damage of tourism comes under MPs’ spotlight
Holidaymakers' responsibility for foul beaches, overcrowding, traffic, aeroplane emissions and other environmental impacts will come under parliamentary scrutiny.
The inquiry into the environmental cost of tourism and transport will consider whether the UK government should play a greater role in offsetting the waste and damage caused by the tens of millions of Britons who go on holiday overseas each year.
It will also look at ways to reduce the negative consequences of the growing domestic tourism industry, including the hefty carbon footprint of aviation and cruise companies.
According to the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which launched the inquiry on Wednesday, global tourism is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Now that summer is here, families are looking forward to a well-earned holiday. But when we book a cruise, flights or visit a popular tourist destination, it’s easy to forget about the environmental impact our holidays are having,” EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP said.
“While there are some sustainable practices, we want to look closely at the government’s actions to ensure the economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism are minimised.”
Thanks to ever-cheaper flights and zero tax on aviation fuel, the holiday business is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries and accounts for more than 10% of global GDP.
But the growing weight of tourists is putting a crushing strain on many of the world’s most popular destinations. The Philippines government had to close the party island of Boracay for six months to clean up the sewage and other filth from unregulated and overstretched resorts.
In Thailand, authorities shut down Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh island to allow the environment to recover from a daily influx of 5,000 tourists and 200 boats since it was made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach.
In the US, a growing horde of backpackers in national parks has clogged up back-country trails and mountain roads, prompting complaints that the search for tranquility has been overtaken by the quest for the perfect selfie. Venice plans to offset the damage with a new tax on the 30 million people who visit the lagoon city every year.
There have been anti-tourism protests in many cities, including Barcelona, and an increasing tendency to blame accidents on the industry, most notably in the wake of the Venice cruise ship collision.
Despite such complaints, the tourist business is expected to continue expanding. In Britain, tourism is the fastest-growing industry. Authorities expect the sector to expand by 3.8% a year up until 2025 and account for more than a tenth of all jobs.
Last year, 37.9 million overseas visitors arrived in the UK – the seventh most popular destination in the world – which puts a substantial burden on the climate and calls into question the government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.
The EAC will study the industry and report next year on ways to reduce the impacts by using incentives, taxation, offsets and greater scrutiny of corporate claims to provide sustainable or eco-friendly packages.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton, said she hoped the inquiry would also review plans to expand airport capacity in the UK and reconsider subsidies that make air travel cheaper than train journeys.
“How we travel can make a major difference to the environmental impact of our holidays, yet far too often the greener options are less affordable. That must urgently change if the UK is serious about the climate emergency, yet the government is failing even to acknowledge the problem – instead supporting a third runway at Heathrow as well as reckless airport expansion elsewhere in the UK.
“This inquiry will allow us to focus on positive policy solutions as well as the environmental problems associated with travel and tourism.”
This article first appeared on the Guardian
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