Tourism: Global civil society witnesses joint statement appeals for harm avoidance

A group of CSOs (civil society organizations) have taken action to help raise awareness of and influence the United Nations tourism agenda. The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (IY2017) to promote tourism’s role in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Civil society groups have long voiced concerns over tourism growth that, through its aviation dependency, is fossil fuel dependent, and is a key driver of land grabs displacing communities and destroying ecosystems. GAAM joined a number of CSOs in issuing a joint statement criticizing the current global tourism and development model. Entitled ‘Tourism, Urgent Appeal for Harm Avoidance’, the statement was issued on 22nd May, the International Day for Biodiversity which was marked this year on the theme of ‘sustainable tourism’. The statement was issued by: International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Investigation and Monitoring Team (Tim-Team), Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), Third World Network (TWN), Consumers Association of Penang, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth, Malaysia), and Tourism Advocacy and Action Forum (TAAF).

An article by Friends of the Earth International International Day for biological biodiversity: celebrate by protecting biodiversity, not promoting tourism critiques the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) for using the International Day for Biodiversity to promote tourism and mentioning the need to reduce its negative impacts, but failing to recognize that many so-called ‘sustainable tourism’ projects, fail host communities by denying them revenue generation and self-determination. In the worst cases indigenous peoples are evicted to make way for resorts. FOE calls for tourism policies that protect ecosystems and the rights of local communities, calling for celebration of International Biodiversity Day by challenging the dominant tourism business model.

Aviation is one of the most rapidly growing sources of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions and a press release from the Global Forest Coalition Aviation Emissions Under Scrutiny On Sustainable Tourism Day raises the issue of proposals to offset these emissions, which were discussed at last week’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany.  Instead of reducing its emissions the aviation industry seeks to offset them with monoculture tree plantations which are a threat to biodiversity and local communities. The plantations destroy natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of communities that depend on them.

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Challenging tourism growth: the role of aviation and impacts on biodiversity

Tourism was on the agenda at the 13th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Cancun, Mexico in December 2016. The draft Cancun Declaration recognizes that tourism, a major sector in the global economy, is dependent upon biodiverse ecosystems. A Third World Network (TWN) briefing paper, ‘Tourism at the tipping point: Governance for future generations’, prepared by Alison M. Johnston, Director of the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism, Canada, urges a precautionary approach to tourism growth, challenging the institutionalization of the industry as a ‘pre-approved enterprise’ which facilitates its expansion into remote areas, often damaging rather than conserving ecosystems and biodiversity. The paper highlights the role of aviation, the tourism industry’s dependence upon the petroleum industry, the impacts on indigenous peoples and considerations for future generations.

The paper was presented and discussed at a COP side-event entitled ‘Tourism and Biodiversity: Benefits and Hazards’ that was co-organized by the TWN, the Global Forest Coalition, the International Support Centre for Sustainable Tourism (ISCST) and the Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team). This input to the UN biodiversity conference, and other critical perspective on tourism, are particularly important in view of the United Nations designation of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, aiming to support ‘a change in policies, business practices and consumer behavior towards a more sustainable tourism sector’.