It’s astonishing the difference a half a degree in temperature will make to us as a planet ‒ and to travellers on their travels ‒ if governments and individuals don’t act now and worldwide policies don’t change to support climate change.
In a 2018 United Nations landmark report, the world’s leading climate scientists warned that we only have until 2030 for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C (34.7F), beyond which even half a degree of change will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The world is already 1.1C warmer than preindustrial levels. The report says urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the 1.5C (34.7F) maximum target, which lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C (34.7F) and 2C (35.6F).
So what does this all mean for travellers?
We are already experiencing the impact of changing climate — wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall continue to affect many tourist destinations around the world. The UN report notes that at 2C (35.6F), insanely hot days – such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere last summer – would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths, causing more forest fires, disrupting travel plans and making things extremely uncomfortable for travellers of all kinds.
In addition, the World Bank has warned that more than 140 million people in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia could be forced to migrate by 2030 to escape the worsening impacts of climate change — unless urgent action is taken to curb global warming. Each year there is such displacement around the world because of drought, desertification and sea level rises — and with so many climate refugees on the move, who will want or be able to travel?
Travel will also become much more expensive. Not only will destinations that are disrupted more frequently by the changing climate raise their prices, but it will cost more to reach them. It’s worth noting that the global airlines agreement known as CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) aims to address the increase in total CO2 emissions from international aviation above 2020 levels will most likely increase the cost of flights. Consumers will have less money for optional travel too. Not to mention the fact that the travel industry is the number one employer of people on the world – disrupted locations will cost jobs.
Insurance costs and business risks will also rise for those travellers who have bought residences or time shares in hotels, resorts or cruise liners. In high risk areas and vulnerable coastlines, such properties will decrease in value (in Florida, prices have dropped by up to 7% along the coast compared to inland).
Illustration show President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Hotel in Florida with 10 foot sea level rise. By 2100, a 2017 report by National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that flooding caused by climate change will worsen in coming years damaging South Florida’s coasts with 10- to 12-foot rise in sea levels. According to a 2018 Union of Concern Scientists Report, this will also impact fresh water supplies and Florida’s massive tourism industry could lose $178 billion annually by the end of the century. It can also happen sooner if we don’t act quickly and decisively.
The UN report also notes that at 1.5C (34.7F) the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C (35.6F). It says that food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.
Water shortages threaten health, food production and energy supply, and increase the cost of pretty much everything. This puts additional stress on governments struggling with poverty and social tensions, posing the threat of war and terror. Not such a good vibe if you’re after a relaxing holiday or a trip of a lifetime and also care about the planet and its people.
Insects vital for the pollination of crops, as well as plants, are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C (35.6F) compared with 1.5C (34.7F), threatening agriculture and biodiversity.
Corals especially would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures, but more than 10% have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached, says the report.
Coral reefs may only cover 1 per cent of the ocean, but they account for 25 percent of all marine life – a biodiversity that rivals the Amazon rainforest. Up to 275 million people worldwide depend on this relatively small area for their livelihoods and sustenance. Travellers and divers attracted to healthy reefs who want to see healthy, thriving reefs teeming with life are going to be hugely disappointed – as will be the businesses that support them. These underwater forests attract visitors to over 100 countries and territories, generating an estimated $36 billion in global tourism annually.
If the half-degree extra warming brought a forecast 10cm additional pressure on coastlines, sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100, a number that would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt. Sea ice-free summers in the Arctic, which is warming two to three times faster than the world average, would come once every 100 years at 1.5C (34.7F), but every 10 years with half a degree more of global warming. For travellers all this means sinking islands, disappearing destinations, and the loss of many beautiful places to visit and experience – not to mention live in – all over the world.
There will also be far fewer fish to eat – if you want to eat fish, that is, after they’ve been eating all the plastic we’ve chucked into the sea. Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change. In the UN report, one model shows marine fisheries would lose 3m tonnes at 2C (35.6F), twice the decline at 1.5C (34.7F).
At a very basic level, extreme storms, flooding and heat waves along with rising sea levels will damage infrastructure such as roadways, leading to dangerous collapses and billions in damage by the century’s end. People will quite simply get hurt and die if nothing is done.
For the travel industry, there really is nowhere left to hide. Greenwashing and poor environmental and social performance are no longer acceptable; instead we need accountability and transparency. Travellers of all kinds are increasingly aware of the challenges that face the planet and what a company should be doing to manage its operational footprint. It’s up to all of us to use our votes and spending power and be the change we want to see.
Want to find out more?
For the full story on the UN landmark report see The Guardian here.
For what was agreed at COP24 see The Guardian here.
To see how the Trump administration is burying its head in the sand, read The New York Times here.
The Story of 2018 is Climate Change see NY Times here.
To hear what two renowned climate experts suggest we need to do to avert disaster, watch this video here.