Paper Example on Literature Review: Impact of Tourism on Climate Change

Published: 2023-07-10
Paper Example on Literature Review: Impact of Tourism on Climate Change
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Ecology Tourism Literature review Climate change
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1807 words
16 min read

Climate change is arguably the biggest problem in the 21st century (Iqbal and Ghauri, 2011). The problem is so dire that there is international law formulated around climate change to cap the carbon footprint of individual countries and their companies. Despite coming in the limelight approximately 30 years ago, climate change has been explored for over a century. In 1896, Svante Arrhenius, the Swedish scientist, was among the first people to estimate that the continued burning of fossil fuels by humans would affect the climate of the planet (Revkin 2018). However, unlike the current position, the perceives climate change as a negative thing, Arrhenius thought of it as beneficial, especially to the colder regions of the planet. Since then, various other scholars have shifted their focus on climate change and the impact it would have on the planet and human life. However, very few studies look at how tourism is affecting climate change. The word tourism and climate change are hardly found on the same topic because of two main things. The first one is that climate change is mainly associated with the burning of fossil fuels, and there is little direct correlation between tourism and fossil fuels. Second is because tourism is an economic booster for a majority of countries, and these countries would be unwilling to reduce tourism as a way of reducing climate change. But such a position isn't warranted because it is not clear that tourism negatively affects climate change. Current studies indicate that tourism has both positive and negative impacts on the fight against climate change. Therefore, this work will review the literary work on the impact of tourism on climate change and draw a conclusion based on the arguments presented by different scholars.

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Negative Impacts

Back in 2011, Professor David Weaver from the Department of Tourism in Australia asked the question of whether sustainable tourism can survive climate change. In his opinion piece, Weaver (2011, p.5) contended that the growing engagement between tourism and climate change is not conducive to the interests of tourism sustainability. Weaver presented a lack of research as one of the seven reasons why tourism is negatively affecting climate change and efforts to stop it.

Knowledge Gap in the Field

A knowledge imbalance was one of the reasons why tourism is undermining efforts to stop climate change (Weaver, 2011). Interest in the topic of the relationship between climate change and tourism has been growing exponentially from 1986 to 2009. A survey conducted on the CABI Direct Database finds only six papers on the topic between 1986 and 1996 (Weaver, 2011). However, interest in the topic quickly increases, as evidenced by 44 papers on the same topic, between 1997 to 2005. The number almost doubles 80 papers on the relationship between tourism, and climate change is published in the years between 2006 and 2009 in CABI Direct Database. The knowledge imbalance is because 75% of these papers between 1986 and 2009 are either focused on the impact of climate change on tourism, or tourism as one of the socio-economic activities that will be affected by climate change (Weaver, 2011). Only 15% of these studies were on the impact of tourism on climate change. These statistics show the knowledge gap that exists concerning the impact of tourism on climate change.

Weaver's (2011) research findings confirm an earlier study conducted by Scott and Becken (2010). Scott and Becken (2010) had discussed the lack of peer-reviewed literature on the topic, which is imperative for policy and operational decision-making on the topic. Based on the study by Scott and Becken (2010), the impact of tourism on climate change is advancing from an awareness phase, where scholars are starting to develop the capacity to deliver relevant scientific knowledge. Tourism decision-makers in both the private and public sectors depend on relevant scientific knowledge in their decision-making. The knowledge gap locks out the tourism sector from the efforts to mitigate climate change, even though it is clear that tourism, as a human activity, has specific impacts on climate change.


Lenzen et al. (2018) identified transportation as one of the primary methods through which tourism negatively contributes to global warming. The transport sector is one of the primary methods through which humans contribute to climate change. The reason is that most of the world's transport still relies on fossil fuels as a source of energy. Unfortunately, tourism is also dependent on transportation, hence indirectly contributing to climate change through greenhouse emissions. Transport, a key ingredient of travel, is carbon and energy-intensive, which renders tourism a potentially potent contributor to climate change (Lenzen et al., 2018).

The research by Lenzen et al., (2018), included the combustion of petrol in vehicles as one of the tourism activities. The research found that tourism activities contribute up to 8% of all greenhouse emissions. Based on the argument aired by Lenzen et al. (2018, p.2), the most significant greenhouse gas responsibility is aired by international tourists because they have the most extended travel distances. It is worth noting that air travel is one of the forms of transportation that rely heavily on fossil fuels. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the aviation industry recorded 3.8 billion travelers in 2016 (Rosen 2017). That number is set to almost double by 2035, with the projected numbers standing at 7.2 billion travelers. Rising economies in Asia and Africa have led to a rise in the number of middle-class populations in the respective countries. Such increases have fuelled global and regional tourism.

Even the current development of fuel-efficient long-haul jets such as the Boeing 787 will not do much to reduce the number of carbon emissions that come from air transport. The increasing amount of carbon emission from air transport is why 68 countries whose carbon emissions account for 90% of international aviation signed the Carbon Offset Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

However, with the projected number of international tourists from countries such as China and India projected to rise, it is very likely that transportation will continue to be the primary method through which tourism negatively impacts climate change.

Environmental degradation

The impact of tourism on the environment has been thoroughly explored, unlike the effect of tourism on climate change. Belsoy et al. (2012) wanted to find out the environmental impacts of tourism. Based on the research of Foley et al., (2003), terrestrial ecosystems such as forests have a high level of impact on the world's climate. As a result, human activities that affect terrestrial ecosystems will indirectly influence climate change through biophysical and biochemical processes emanating from the physical environment.

According to Foley et al., (2003), the atmosphere responds to the exchange of energy, and momentum from the land, ice, ocean or any large body of water. Events such as the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps can reduce the amount of solar radiation that gets reflected to space hence causing an increase in global temperatures. But tourism is not directly related to the melting of the solar ice caps. That is why Belsoy et al. (2012) look at how tourism would directly affect terrestrial ecosystems so that we can directly decipher how tourism can negatively affect climate change through environmental degradation.

Belsoy et al. (2012) differentiate these impacts into direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts. Cumulative impacts are those which are caused by tourism on the protected areas. The indirect impacts are related to activities associated with tourism (Belsoy et al., 2012). As for the cumulative impacts, they are a product of both direct and indirect environmental impacts. The type of environmental impact does not correspond to the intensity of the impact. That is, direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts can have the same level of impact on the environment.

According to Belsoy et al., (2012), tourism-related activities such as the construction of recreational amenities and infrastructure leads to the clearing of vegetation hence causing the surface area of barren land to increase. Vegetative cover contributes to surface cooling through evapotranspiration (Foley et al., 2003, p. 38). But that is not the only way that tourism-related activities could negatively contribute to global warming. The study by Foley et al. (2003), indicates that vegetative height and density affect the roughness of the land surface. The roughness of the land surface affects the mixing of air close to the ground (Foley et al., 2003, p.38). As it turns out, rough surfaces affect the cooling process by mixing the air more efficiently than smooth surfaces. Clearing of vegetation for the construction of such amenities creates smooth surfaces which in turn hinder efficient air mixing and hinder the earth's cooling process.

Furthermore, tourism activities such as camping and hiking inside protected forest areas increase the risk of human-related forest fires (Belsoy et al. 2012). Forest fires negatively affect climate change because they increase the carbon content in the air by releasing the carbon trapped in trees hence increasing greenhouse emissions. Forest fires also reduce the amount of forest coverage hence lowering the rate at which carbon dioxide, the most concerning greenhouse gas, is removed from the atmosphere. Forests are an essential part of the fight against climate change because they remove the carbon content from the air and turn it into wood through the photosynthesis process. But the process is not restricted to trees. All photosynthetic plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen as part of their photosynthetic process.

As a result, tourism activities negatively contribute to climate change by negatively reducing the amount of vegetation cover. However, more research is needed on exactly the extent to which tourism-related activities reduce vegetation cover, to deduce the extent to which tourism accelerates climate change through the same process.

Positive Impacts

But while tourism negatively contributes to climate change, there are silver linings that present hope for the future of the planet because of tourism and activities related to it. A report prepared by Peeters (2007) indicates that most tourism trips are generally eco-efficient. Peeters argues that tourism accounts for a relatively low percentage of GHG emissions and that means that mitigation measures can only target a small part of tourism and leave most of the industry unaffected (Peeters, 2007, p.5). However, while the research by Peeters (2007) argues for the place of tourism in a world that contends with climate change, it doesn't necessarily prove its innocence. It shows that tourism negatively contributes to climate change, although by a small percentage. However, the studies done by Belsoy et al. (2012) and Foley et al. (2003) can be used to justify the positive impact of tourism.

Environmental Conservation

Despite the negative contribution that tourism makes to the environment, it also positively contributes to environmental conservation efforts which in turn positively contributes to efforts to mitigate climate change. The study by Belsoy et al. (2012) proved that tourism could affect the physical environment.

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