Article

The carbon footprint of global tourism

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Abstract

Tourism contributes significantly to global gross domestic product, and is forecast to grow at an annual 4%, thus outpacing many other economic sectors. However, global carbon emissions related to tourism are currently not well quantified. Here, we quantify tourism-related global carbon flows between 160 countries, and their carbon footprints under origin and destination accounting perspectives. We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased from 3.9 to 4.5 GtCO2e, four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Transport, shopping and food are significant contributors. The majority of this footprint is exerted by and in high-income countries. The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology. We project that, due to its high carbon intensity and continuing growth, tourism will constitute a growing part of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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Change history

  • Correction 23 May 2018

    In the version of this Article originally published, in the penultimate paragraph of the section “Gas species and supply chains”, in the sentence “In this assessment, the contribution of air travel emissions amounts to 20% (0.9 GtCO2e) of tourism’s global carbon footprint...” the values should have read “12% (0.55 GtCO2e)”; this error has now been corrected, and Supplementary Table 9 has been amended to clarify this change.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the Australian Research Council through its Discovery Projects DP0985522 and DP130101293, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project (NeCTAR) through its Industrial Ecology Virtual Laboratory, and the Taiwan Ministry of Science and Technology (no. 105-2410-H-006-055-MY3). The authors thank S. Juraszek for expertly managing the Global IELab’s advanced computation requirements, and C. Jarabak for help with collecting data.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. ISA, School of Physics A28, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    • Manfred Lenzen
    • , Futu Faturay
    • , Arne Geschke
    •  & Arunima Malik
  2. Department of Transportation & Communication Management Science, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan City, Taiwan, Republic of China

    • Ya-Yen Sun
    •  & Yuan-Peng Ting
  3. UQ Business School, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Ya-Yen Sun
  4. Fiscal Policy Agency, Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia

    • Futu Faturay
  5. Sydney Business School, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    • Arunima Malik

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Contributions

Y.-Y.S. and M.L. conceived and designed the experiments. M.L., Y.-Y.S., F.F., Y.-P.T., A.G. and A.M. performed the experiments. F.F., Y.-P.T., M.L. and Y.-Y.S. analysed the data. Y.-P.T., A.G., Y.-Y.S. and M.L. contributed materials/analysis tools. M.L., Y.-Y.S. and A.M. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Arunima Malik.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Data, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figures 1–13, Supplementary Tables 1–14, Supplementary Discussion and Supplementary References