The carbon footprint of global tourism

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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Fig. 1: Carbon footprint measures of selected top-ranking countries for 2013.
Fig. 2: Top bilateral embodied carbon movements.
Fig. 3: Top bilateral embodied carbon movements to and/or from Europe.
Fig. 4: Breakdown of the tourism carbon footprint into purchased commodities and emitting industries, and into high-, middle- and low-income countries.
Fig. 5: Affluence and technology as drivers of the carbon footprint of global tourism for the RBA perspective.

Change history

  • 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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Arunima Malik.

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

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Lenzen, M., Sun, Y., Faturay, F. et al. The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Clim Change 8, 522–528 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x

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