Going on vacation may be fun for you, but it’s not great for Earth. The carbon footprint of global tourism is about four times larger than previously recognized and accounts for about one-twelfth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a new study suggests.
Previous analyses typically tallied only carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions due to air travel. But the new study also includes emissions of CO2 and other planet-warming gases due to the construction and maintenance of such infrastructure as hotels and airports, as well as emissions associated with tourists’ purchases of food, beverages, and souvenirs.
Using data collected by and within 160 countries, the researchers estimate that global tourism in 2013 accounted for greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 4.5 billion metric tons of CO2, or about 8% of global emissions that year. Air travel accounted for only about 12% of that total, the team reports today in Nature Climate Change.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization has previously suggested two ways to reduce the carbon footprint of global tourism: Travelers could choose destinations closer to home and use more public transportation, and governments could offer tourism providers incentives to boost their energy efficiency. To date, neither approach has been wildly successful, the researchers note.
If recent trends continue—and if the global economy grows as expected—the carbon footprint of global tourism will expand more than 40% (to about 6.5 billion metric tons of CO2) by the year 2025.
*Correction, 8 May, 10:20 a.m.: The headline and first paragraph of this story have been revised to correct a math error.