Tourism to be Ravaged by Global Warming?

The Editor,
NZ Herald.
4 January, 2008.

Dear Sir,

Is our hard-won tourism industry to be ravaged by global warming?

No, not by rising sea levels, but by imposts to “offset” the “carbon footprints” of the growing numbers of our visitors? Let us hope that cool heads examine the matter carefully before hasty action spoils anything.

According to research from the University of Otago published in the NZ Herald today, visiting tourists’ CO2 emissions equal those from all our coal, gas and oil-fired electricity generators combined.

Apparently, in 2005, the CO2-equivalent emissions from 2.4 million international visitors’ return air flights were about 10 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. This is much higher than the world average (given at stuff.co.nz as usually 3.5 per cent), which surprised the researchers. We are not told whether this paper has been peer-reviewed, but taking the facts at face value raises some interesting questions.

First, were they really surprised? They know where New Zealand is situated—it’s one of the most far-flung destinations in the world, therefore travel distances, times, costs and emissions are all above average. That’s not a bit surprising.

But in the Herald’s report, serious concern is expressed about the effects of our tourism on the climate and the difficulty of “offsetting” the tourists’ emissions, concern which many might conclude is unnecessary when the numbers are put into perspective.

In getting here and returning home, the tourists “spent” about 10 per cent of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for 2005, or nearly 7.9 million tonnes (7.9Mt). The country’s total GHG emissions in 2005, the latest year for which the Ministry of the Environment has figures, were 77.2 Mt.

How did that register globally? Since mankind’s total GHG emissions were about 7 thousand million tonnes (7Gt), New Zealand contributed 1 per cent of that. So, if the figures are reliable, our tourists contributed 0.1 per cent towards mankind’s total.

That doesn’t sound like much. The entire global temperature increase from 1850 to 2005 is reckoned by the IPCC in the Fourth Assessment Report, 2007, to have been about 0.76°C, and the entire anthropogenic contribution to that increase, again from their figures, was between 0.21°C and 0.35°C.

Call me wildly optimistic, but I think that a contribution of 0.1% towards a possible future temperature rise of about 0.3°C (and this estimate is on the high side) should not cause concern.

I also think it should not cost us, or our valuable tourists, any money. If anyone, less optimistic, is concerned, we should ask them the reasons for their concern.

Finally, are we responsible for our guests’ travel method?

When friends visit my house for dinner, I do not consider myself responsible for their travel. Why should it be different when people visit my country? They take responsibility for their own travel costs, including any perturbation they might cause in the atmosphere.

The MfE’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2005 considers only New Zealand’s domestic use of energy towards our carbon emissions, specifically excluding international air and water transport. International aviation emissions are not included under the Kyoto Protocol—at the moment, no country is held responsible.

Why do the researchers from Otago now tell us that we’re responsible for our visitors’ “carbon” expenditure? On what basis? What’s changed?

When we visit Noumea or Australia, Britain or Belgium, do we expect them to “offset” our carbon footprint in getting there? Hardly. Why then should our visitors expect it?

Is someone pulling the wool over our eyes?

Yours faithfully,

Richard Treadgold

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