A new study from the British Met Office states that catastrophic climate change, previously thought to be 100 years or more over the horizon, could occur within 50 years. Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December, the European Union is calling for 10 and 20 percent carbon dioxide emission cuts for aviation and shipping.
Why should the New Zealand tourism industry care? I argue that we all have an urgent responsibility to act on climate change, because if we don’t, we are going to spend the rest of our lives dealing with the increasingly dire consequences – consequences which will include droughts, floods, tropical diseases reaching New Zealand, and sea level rise that will make investing in coastal property – including those parts of our major cities that are just above sea level – a really, really bad idea.
But just suppose you don’t care about that. Suppose all you want to do is turn a buck from international tourism. So far, you’ve been lucky, relatively speaking: international aviation, on which inbound tourism to New Zealand depends, was exempted from the Kyoto Protocol, the current international agreement on climate change policy that expires in 2012.
This exemption is unlikely to last forever. Not only is international aviation a rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, but because most emissions from international aviation occur high in the atmosphere, the effect of aviation emissions on the atmosphere is magnified. The aerospace industry has been lobbying vigorously against the inclusion of aviation in future international climate agreements. As recognition grows of the effects climate change is having, and how rapidly those effects are increasing, it’s most unlikely that aviation will escape the net forever.
That is going to increase costs, and in a price-sensitive tourism market, long-haul travel will be especially sensitive to cost increases. But carbon charges are not the only likely source of cost increases: although the recession which began in 2008 caused international oil prices to drop, the International Energy Agency predicts that another sustained rise in oil prices is not far away. Airlines hedge fuel prices where possible, but those price rises will ultimately have to be passed on to passengers.
As costs increase, New Zealand’s battered “clean and green” reputation will come under increasing pressure, partly from the very emissions that result from flying round the globe to get here. If I were involved in the tourism industry, I would be protesting vigorously to the Government every time it or its agencies propose investigating conservation lands and national parks to see if it can mine them, or digging up farmland to mine highly-polluting lignite. Those things do nothing for New Zealand’s international image, quite apart from the damage they cause in their own right, and as the 10-20% Pure New Zealand campaign shows, people are noticing the contradiction.
The credibility, and ultimately the existence, of New Zealand’s international tourism industry depends on vigorous and public action to combat climate change and find genuine alternatives to present unsustainable transport methods. Better to get to grips with the issue now than have it get to grips with you in the near future.
Tim Jones is a Wellington writer, editor, and sustainable energy and climate change activist. For more on Tim and his writing, please see his blog Books in the Trees.