Climate and environmental impacts

Questions about tourism’s environmental impact have been topical ever since the birth of mass tourism in the 1950s and 60s. The main focus of research has been to quantify emissions and damage related to tourism. Two methods with slightly different starting points have dominated: Ecological Footprint Analysis (EFA) and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). EFA attempts to compare different types of impacts on the environment, to make a standard measurement and relate the result to the earth’s available resources. LCA, which is used as the basis for the calculations in the travel carbon footprint calculator (see detailed description in the Methodological Report), measures climate impact in the form of CO2 equivalents.

The requirements for an LCA are to quantify the whole life cycle of a product (in this case a journey), from “cradle to grave” to give as accurate a picture as possible of the climate impact. When calculating the climate impact of different modes of transport, in addition to emissions from exhaust pipes, emissions that occur in connection with the production of the fuel are also included. However emissions that occur during the manufacture of the vehicle are not included. Apart from measuring emissions and damage it’s also used to describe how tourism affects the local environment in the form of, for example, littering or deforestation as a result of the expansion of tourism infrastructure and activities.

The impacts described above all have a negative connotation, but positive environmental impacts as a result of tourism have also been noted. Above all, increased tourism can create a better understanding of how valuable natural resources are. Seeing and visiting relatively untouched natural surroundings is one of tourism’s pull factors (see Travel Motives). What locals see as something self evident and everyday suddenly gets a great value which is converted into visits, pride in their local area, and financial gain. It may result in the protection and preservation of nature and the environment. The emergence of national parks is, for example, strongly linked to tourism and the value attributed to these assets.

Read more about how tourism affects the climate in our Methodological Report.

Castellani, V., & Sala, S. (2012). Ecological Footprint and Life Cycle Assessment in the sustainability assessment of tourism activities. Ecological Indicators, 16(0), 135-147.
Gössling, S., Peeters, P., Ceron, J.-P., Dubois, G., Patterson, T., & Richardson, R. B. (2005). The eco-efficiency of tourism. Ecological Economics, 54(4)
Lundberg, E. (2014). Tourism Impacts and Sustainable Development. Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg.
Wall, G., & Mathieson, A. (2006). Tourism: changes, impacts, and opportunities (2. ed.). Harlow, Eng. ; New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.