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Climate Change and Tourism

Tourism is one of the main forces of economic development for tourist destinations that provides significant economic benefits, including tax revenues, investments, and jobs (Mahadevan & Suardi, 2019; Sharpley, 2018). At the same time, the positive economic impacts of tourism are often outweighed by the environmental costs for local communities (Garau-Vadell et al., 2018; Uysal et al., 2016) that negatively impact residents’ health, well-being, and quality of life.

Environmental impacts are mainly related to the increased usage of resources, infrastructure, and facilities. Furthermore, local destination development policies are often focused on satisfying the needs of tourists rather than sustainability and environmental protection. The negative environmental outcomes include air pollution, water pollution, wildlife destruction, plant destruction, deforestation, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from different kinds of transportation (Postma & Schmuecker, 2017). Many tourism destinations in the world suffer from global warming. For example, saving Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from the ravages of bleaching requires immediate actions on reducing global warming (Gelineau, 2017).

 At the same time, tourism also brings positive environmental impacts through important environmental services for host countries and energy efficiency innovations (Balsalobre-Lorente et al., 2020). Furthermore, the relationships between tourism development and climate change are bidirectional. The growth of tourism and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions influences climate change, while climate change also affects tourism demand (Patterson et al., 2006). The tourism industry is also associated with high levels of energy consumption for hotels, transportation, tourist attractions, etc., which also contribute to environmental pollution (Gössling, 2002).

The literature suggests that tourism is responsible for about 10% of the total carbon emissions in the world (Gabbatiss, 2018). As a result, there is no lack of debate about the organizations that should pay the costs of climate change outcomes, and tourism stakeholders are discussed as the potential financial resources of climate change adaptation (Hess & Kelman, 2017). For example, several authors recommend governments in Small Island Development States (SIDS) to encourage tourism enterprises to invest in adaptation to climate changes (e.g., Hess, Pauw, & Papyrakis, 2015). Another example is related to the excessive pollution caused by cruise ships. Vidal (2016) describes the trail of pollution behind the biggest cruise ship Harmony of the Seas in Southampton. 

At the same time, it is difficult to directly analyze the relationships between tourism statistics and climate change indicators. On the one hand, the environmental impacts of tourism can be quantitatively assessed through the data on greenhouse gas emissions, PM 2.5 pollution, air quality indexes, land management metrics, ecological footprint, human-wildlife conflict monitoring, and some other techniques (Mikayilov et al., 2019). On the other hand, the causality of these relationships is not obvious due to the nature of research methodology traditionally applied in tourism descriptive statistics which say nothing about the direction of causality. In order to determine causality, it is necessary to observe variation in independent variables such as tourism arrivals and then measure the changes in the dependent variable such as carbon emissions or climate change. Identification of causality should be made by establishing covariation between variables, determining the time-order relationship with the cause preceding the effect, and eliminating alternative causes, including noon-tourism transportation, using fossil fuels, deforestation, etc. Taking into account the potential negative environmental impacts of tourism, it will be more beneficial for the governments and international organizations to nudge environmentally friendly behavior of tourism providers, tourists, and tourism destinations by providing additional benefits for the most sustainable practices, restricting using certain ways of transportation, and encouraging tourists to minimize their environmental impacts by using behavioral insights from psychological research (Amir et al., 2005; Barberis, 2018). 


Amir, O., Ariely, D., Cooke, A., Dunning, D., Epley, N., Gneezy, U., … & Silva, J. (2005). Psychology, behavioral economics, and public policy. Marketing Letters16(3), 443-454.

Balsalobre-Lorente, D., Driha, O. M., Shahbaz, M., & Sinha, A. (2020). The effects of tourism and globalization over environmental degradation in developed countries. Environmental Science and Pollution Research27(7), 7130-7144.

Barberis, N. (2018). Richard Thaler and the rise of behavioral economics. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics120(3), 661-684.

Gabatiss (2018). Tourism is responsible for nearly one tenth of the world’s carbon emissions. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/tourism-climate-change-carbon-emissions-global-warming-flying-cars-transport-a8338946.html

Garau-Vadell, J. B., Gutierrez-Taño, D., & Diaz-Armas, R. (2018). Economic crisis and residents’ perception of the impacts of tourism in mass tourism destinations. Journal of Destination Marketing & Management, 7, 68-75.

Gelineau (2017). Study: Stopping global warming only way to save Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/environment/ct-global-warming-australia-great-barrier-reef-20170315-story.html

Gössling, S. (2002). Global environmental consequences of tourism. Global Environmental Change12(4), 283-302.

Hess, J. S., Pauw, P., & Papyrakis, E. (2015). Can the tourism industry contribute to international adaptation finance? https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/199743/1/die-bp-2015-02.pdf

Hess, J., & Kelman, I. (2017). Tourism industry financing of climate change adaptation: exploring the potential in small island developing states. Climate, Disaster and Development Journal2(2), 33-45.

Mahadevan, R., & Suardi, S. (2019). Panel evidence on the impact of tourism growth on poverty, poverty gap and income inequality. Current Issues in Tourism, 22(3), 253-264.

Mikayilov, J. I., Mukhtarov, S., Mammadov, J., & Azizov, M. (2019). Re-evaluating the environmental impacts of tourism: does EKC exist?. Environmental Science and Pollution Research26(19), 19389-19402.

Postma, A., & Schmuecker, D. (2017). Understanding and overcoming negative impacts of tourism in city destinations: Conceptual model and strategic framework. Journal of Tourism Futures, 3(2), 144-156.

Sharpley, R. (2018). Tourism, tourists and society. New York, NY: Routledge.

Uysal, M., Sirgy, M. J., Woo, E., & Kim, H. L. (2016). Quality of life (QOL) and well-being research in tourism. Tourism Management, 53, 244-261.

Vidal (2016). The world’s largest cruise ship and its supersized pollution problem. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/21/the-worlds-largest-cruise-ship-and-its-supersized-pollution-problem