Your giant tourism footprint

New Delhi: India has the world’s fourth-largest carbon footprint from tourism, including business travel, after the US, China and Germany, says a study that has estimated that tourism accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It has shown that domestic travel accounts for larger portions of carbon footprints than foreign travel in each of these countries.

The study, released on Monday, is the first to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from all tourism activities, from air travel to shopping for souvenirs and eating in restaurants.

It also suggests that American travellers top the tourism carbon footprint ranking, contributing 909 million tonnes in emissions irrespective of where they travel – nearly four times the 240 million tonnes from Indians, irrespective of where they travel

An analysis of emissions specifically from bilateral movements shows that people from Canada, Mexico and Britain travelling to the US make up the top three contributions. India features just outside the top 10 – travellers from the US to India make up the 11th largest contribution to emissions from bilateral movements.

“Our analysis is a world-first look at the true cost of tourism, a complete lifecycle assessment of global tourism, ensuring that we don’t miss any impacts,” said Arunima Malik, a researcher at the University of Sydney who led the study.

Malik and her colleagues examined supply chains – including those for transport, shopping and food – in the context of tourism, extracting available data from 189 countries.

They integrated tourism expenditure information with trade databases to scan more than a billion supply chains to estimate the tourism footprint.

“We’re able to capture both direct and indirect impacts by scanning upstream supply chains,” Malik told The Telegraph.

The researchers’ study of global movements corroborates that travelling is largely a high-income affair, with the emissions linked to tourism flowing mainly between high-income countries.

But Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico are among the countries with the strongest growth in their tourism footprints, possibly reflecting the increasing travels by their wealthy citizens to exotic locations.

“We found that the per capita carbon footprint increases strongly with increased affluence and does not appear to (be) satiate(d) as incomes grow,” Manfred Lenzen, a researcher at the University of Sydney, said.

The study has found that air travel emissions make up about 12 per cent of tourism‘s global carbon footprint.

It has also found that international tourism accounts for 30 to 60 per cent of the national emissions from island states such as Cyprus, Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives.

“Each person in the Maldives shoulders a large territorial carbon footprint because the nation hosts many tourists,” Lenzen told this newspaper.

The researchers are hoping their findings will encourage more meaningful discourse over strategies to mitigate the emissions linked to tourism.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation has proposed that travellers be encouraged to choose short-haul destinations with increased use of public transport and lower use of aviation, and that tourism operators be provided market incentives to improve their energy efficiency.

“Our findings provide proof that so far these mitigation strategies have yielded limited success,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“Neither responsible travel behaviour nor technological improvements have been able to rein in tourism‘s carbon footprint.”