Comment: Inertia is not an option when it comes to reaching net zero

The travel industry must be bold if it is to achieve its sustainability goals, says The Travel Corporation’s Shannon Guihan

Most of us will know about the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, a movement that was born out of the urgent need to accelerate climate action in tourism and launched at COP26 in November 2021.

At that time, 300 travel and tourism businesses – The Travel Corporation and our family of brands such as Trafalgar, Uniworld, Contiki and Red Carnation Hotels included – signed the declaration, making a public commitment to support the goal of halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero as quickly as possible before 2050. As of December 1, 2023, that number has increased to 857 signatories, which is encouraging.

As part of our commitment, we all agreed to – among other things – develop and submit a Climate Action Plan within the first 12 months of signing.

According to a report released last month by the Glasgow Declaration, conducted between the months of January and June 2023 and based on 420 updates from participating companies, 261 had submitted Climate Action Plans. That means that of the 300 original signatories, nearly 15% have not succeeded in their initial commitment – at the first and simplest of the tasks ahead of us.

To a degree this is understandable. The path to net zero is filled with unknowns, unknowns that aren’t often welcomed in boardrooms and C-suites where decisions need to be made. But we can’t allow this to paralyse us from taking action. We must accept there’s a degree of uncertainty and move forward in any case, putting plans and mechanisms in place to enable a low-carbon economy. Because inertia is simply not an option.

This work requires resources and prioritisation, and we need to adjust. Not doing so is what has already cost us so dearly. And the writers of the Glasgow Declaration are not asking that we go it alone. Collaboration is one of five pathways (alongside measurement, decarbonisation, regeneration, and finance) laid out in the declaration, and we can, and should, apply shared learnings from industry colleagues. For TTC’s part, our Climate Action Plan, our annual Impact Reports and our methodology are easily accessible on our websites and Impact Hub for all to see and apply, as apt.

In an industry as large and varied as ours, there is no one right solution. Climate Action Plans are subject to change based on evolving science, technology and infrastructure, and we must be humble enough to adapt as needed. The first iteration of TTC’s Climate Action Plan included carbon offsets, but as we went through the Science Based Targets initiative process, we accelerated our commitment by focusing on reduction, in tandem with a new financial framework designed to prioritise decarbonisation, our Carbon Fund.

The Carbon Fund addresses the Finance pathway of the Glasgow Declaration, ensuring that monies are safeguarded specifically for our decarbonisation efforts. It’s a model we encourage other travel companies to consider. Even if you’re an asset-light business, you can put this money towards work with destinations, helping us all to tackle Scope 3 emissions, which remain the biggest challenge we have as they largely rely on infrastructure in region. This would encourage more destinations to come onboard – currently only 10% of the signatories are destinations, and of those, only 11% have submitted plans. The destination is the heart of the holiday experience, so the responsibility is shared.

It’s imperative that our sector’s pathway to net zero is given due prioritisation and resource. It’s the only way to protect the longevity of our businesses, our industry and the planet we call home. And if that isn’t motivation enough, then legislation is coming where action will be obligatory.

If the carrot isn’t working, then the stick is on its way. Let’s do our best to get to it before that happens.

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