Can tourism be part of the decarbonized global economy? The costs and risks of alternate carbon reduction policy pathways


Global leaders agree on the need to substantially decarbonize the global economy by 2050. This paper compares potential costs associated with different policy pathways to achieve tourism sector emission reduction ambitions (−50% by 2035) and transform the sector to be part of the mid-century decarbonized economy (−70% by 2050). Investment in emissions abatement within the tourism sector, combined with strategic external carbon offsets, was found to be approximately 5% more cost effective over the period 2015–2050 than exclusive reliance on offsetting. The cost to achieve the −50% target through abatement and strategic offsetting, while significant, represents less than 0.1% of the estimated global tourism economy in 2020 and 3.6% in 2050. Distributed equally among all tourists (international and domestic), the cost of a low-carbon tourism sector is estimated at US$11 per trip, equivalent to many current travel fees or taxes. Exclusive reliance on offsetting would expose the sector to extensive and continued carbon liability costs beyond mid-century and could be perceived as climate inaction, increasing reputational risks and the potential for less efficient regulatory interventions that could hinder sustainable tourism development. Effective tourism sector leadership is needed to develop a strategic tourism policy framework and emission measurement and reporting system.