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What the IPCC 1.5 Report Requires From Tourism

Glacier environment

A temperature rise of 0.5°C, from 1.5°C to 2.0°C will condemn a majority of all coral reefs. It doubles the decline in marine fisheries and extreme heat waves will be 2.6 times worse. A 0.5°C rise in global average temperature doesn’t sound like much, but in terms of the environmental impact it will cause it’s a heck of a lot.

The latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report outlines our upcoming climate reality based on highly reputable climate scientists research, composed from some 91 authors and 133 contributing authors. The report, “Global warming of 1.5°C”, sets a long-term goal of maintaining the increase in the global average temperature between 1.5°C and 2°C compared to pre-industrial (before 1880) levels. Of course, it also urges global leaders to aim for lower.

Today we reached already a 1.1°C increase in global average temperature leaving us with the small buffer of 0.4°C before we reach the lower end of our limit. Since this 1.1°C hike is the direct outcome of a century of pollution you might shrug this off. However, there are three main factors that should pique your concern.

First, climate change is a very slow process (in terms of human measurements) with a very long emission removal process – delay between cause and final warming impact. It will take the environment 30 years to remove 50%, hundreds of years to remove another 30% and thousands of years to remove the remaining 20% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere. In other words, the roadtrip you took 10 years ago, will continue to have a heavy warming impact on our climate for the next 20 years with a continuous impact for long time afterwards. Though there are many different types of greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) is the one that contributes most heavily to global warming.

Second, humans have never produced as many GHGs as today. The last century brought the reliance on coal and accelerated population growth. But only in the early 21st century do we see a demand for intensive energy consuming services, such as transportation and global goods production and distribution per capita. In addition, Earth’s population grew exponentially over the last decades multiplying demand and emissions and causing a 60% increase of carbon emission the last 25 years alone.

Third, climate change is a global issue that requires everybody (!) to work towards a shift in structural thought. These demands are made when humans are faced with an extremely urgent need. But even North Americans who recognize the science of climate change have a hard time conceptualizing it on a psychological level. Though we know that even storms on US soil are intensifying we abstract away from this urgent reality, putting it off like a midterm we’re not looking forward to. For this reason incremental change to prevent the (currently inevitable) rise in temperature is a hard thing to motivate. Humans are adaptable which puts as at risk of normalizing the volatile effects of climate change – just as we’ve grown immune to Trump’s infantile Twitter spats.

There are more factors influencing how we must approach climate change, but the above are our greatest challenges.

IPCC report simply explained

The IPCC 1.5°C report was created to provide a global reference to climate activists highlighting the urgent need to take immediate action. But since the report was written by scientists it’s filled with jargon and not readily accessible to the average reader. We’ve condensed it to a few paragraphs, following is a gist of what it says.

Until recently little was known of the risks Earth’s environment would face with a temperature increase of 1.5°C compared to 2°C. The report explains the impact of those two temperature scenarios and the risk our planet and humanity faces if average temperatures rise 2°C. Different greenhouse gas emissions pathways have been outlined to describe potential temperature scenarios and consequences. The main statements of the IPCC emphasizes that without further delay, decisive action needs to be taken to avoid the worse. Three main messages can be derived from the report:

To stay below a 1.5°C average increase, all CO2 emissions need to be halved by 2030 and go down to zero by 2050. Given our increased appetite for energy, this is a big challenge. However, it also provides opportunity to shift to a modern society with new jobs and cleaner solutions. Considering the progress humans have made the last decade, while aware of climate change issues, the report shows that additional effort needs to be made besides reducing emissions. Solution to remove carbon from our atmosphere will be most likely required, but there’s uncertainty about if the required carbon removal can be deployed at such scale.

Any deviation from the target temperature 1.5°C average global temperature increase comes with a severe impact on our environment. An overshoot of required emission reductions, going up to 2°C, would increase extreme temperature by a factor of 2.6, ice free arctic summers by a factor of 10, loss in species and plants by a factor of 2, earthland shift to a new biom by a factor of 1.9, maize harvest loss by a factor of 2.3, marine fisheries decline by a factor of 2, permafrost reduction by 40% and a total loss in coral reefs.

Immediate action is required to meet even the 1.5°C target. Never has society witnessed the necessity to reduce and change existing infrastructures to an extent that the climate change crisis can be limited in its impact. Different prediction models exist – almost all with the same tendency – to predict how much of an impact an overshoot of the 1.5°C will likely have on our ecosystem. A common understanding exists that a 1.5°C temperature increase will have a severe impact on our environment and the longer we are above 1.5°C the more species will be put at risk.

WRI_IPCC_1.5
Source: World Resources Institute (WRI)

Impact on travellers’ destinations

Statistics show that younger generations value travel experience over material possession. With regard to climate change, popular travel destinations will suffer enormous consequences. It is crucial that everybody get a clear idea of those consequences and how everybody can participate to drive change. The IPCC 1.5°C report is a good place to start.

If imminent action is only taken half heartedly, many popular tourist attractions will be destroyed irreversibly. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia, the world’s largest coral reef system, is a good example of climate change impact. Every year millions of scuba divers and snorkelers visit this spectacular marine life, however, with rising sea temperatures the reef started to bleach in vast portions (like many other reefs). When coral bleaching occurs, the reef turns white and starts to die off taking also down the maritime life it surrounds. If younger generations want to preserve these natural beauties, sea water temperatures need to stop rising.

Another good example is the Glacier National Park, Montana, USA. The national park spans millions of acres accomodating a pristine ecosystem that is home to thousands of plants and animal species. Rising temperatures cause the glaciers, that gave the park its very name, to melt with some of the worst losing 85% in ice mass. If rising temperatures are not halted, there is no sign that the shrinking will slow down and the approximately 3 million visitors every year will soon find a complete altered ecosystem.

The list of affected travel destinations can go on forever, as the symptoms repeat themselves only varying in progress and gravity from climate change impact. Of course we could now point on many industries and polluters, but structural change starts with individual consciousness and action. Today tourism accounts for 8% of climate change impact and with current trends this number is rather to increase. Travel is a luxury activity, communicating the IPCC report and sharing its finding is essential to make the crowd aware of scientific research fostering demand for sustainable solutions.

Proactivity is key​

Since the beginning of temperature recordings in 1850, the last consecutive 18 years have been among the hottest ever measured. The next years are going to be the most important ones in the history of Homo sapiens (humans) to turn away a global crisis. Studies show that the impact of a group working together towards the same goal is much bigger than the sum its individual actions. Everyone is asked to act including countries, cities, the private sector, and individuals to take on the biggest challenge of our times – climate change – together.

The IPCC report highlights that political, economic, social, and technical feasibility of renewables and electricity storage technologies have improved substantially in recent years. However we still need to taper our energy demand with conscious usage and a preference for the renewable resources that will help preserve our environment.

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