Tag Archives: tourism

Green conscience for Pacific holidaymakers?

The report ‘World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations’ suggests that you are making a good holiday choice when flying to Pacific Islands. But unfortunately climate change makes the picture more complex.

Pacific islands – Ethical holiday destinations

The report The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations listed the Pacific island nations Palau, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu as winners of the 2015 most ethical holiday destinations (Greenwald, et al. 2015). It rewards the importance of environmental policy in these countries. Palau, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu were chosen because of their progressive energy policy and their goals for promoting resilience against climate change. They are becoming the showcases for the transformation to renewable energy.

Palau was already designated an “Environmental Star” by the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for its extensive protected marine and terrestrial areas. Vanuatu is according to the Happy Planet Index considered as “Happiest Country in the World,” (Greenwald, et al. 2015). The index is calculated by a combination of different indicators like well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint.

The shortcoming of the Ethical Traveler report is that national environmental and socioeconomic criteriums are chosen to consider if tourism to a country is ethical. The report did not take a close look at the local patterns of the tourism sector or questioned the tourism industry.

Ecotourism in the South Pacific?

The touristic infrastructure on Pacific islands is dominated by luxury resorts for premium rich holidaymakers. They are quite energy intensive and use a lot of freshwater. Though governments claim environmental goals, there is often a lack of dialogue between tour operators and local governments (Wong et al., 2013). One main structural disadvantaged of tourism Pacific islands cannot be tackled by any green policy: Due to the geographical situation of Oceania, most travellers reach the islands by far distant flights which are major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only tourists have to be transported to the Resorts, but also food, water and energy.

Risk that tourists move away

Tourism is a volatile business which is very vulnerable to climate change. On one hand, coastal-based, touristic infrastructure can be destroyed by sea-level rise and more intense tropical cyclones. Pacific island nations do everything to maintain this important source of revenue. Therefore, improving the resilience of touristic infrastructure is a major stake in Pacific Islands countries (Wong et al., 2013). On the other hand, tourist destinations loose attractiveness with coastal deterioration and coral bleaching. Extreme weather events and the spread of diseases like Malaria can spoil the image of a paradise holiday destination. Visitors may choose another place for Holidays.

Climate change tourism

In the last years a new touristic phenomena emerged on Pacific Islands: The climate change tourism. People come to watch and witness the climate change impacts. Newspaper articles appeared with lists of holiday destinations worth visiting before submerged by sea level rise. Visitors become an appeal of compassion with climate change victims and show their solidarity by repeating environmentalist slogans like ‘We are all Tuvalu’. But is this not rather voyeuristic consumption of climate change without questioning the own behaviour (Farbotko, 2010)? The perversity lies in the fact the attractiveness of the destination increases the more the countries are in peril of climate change.

Unfortunately, ethical tourist behaviour cannot be easily ticked down by comparison spreadsheets as the authors of the report The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations suggest.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved. 

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Trees, wind and coconuts – Samoa’s zero carbon target

The Pacific island state Samoa strives to be carbon neutral by 2020. The country goes for energy from wind and coconut oil. One million trees should be planted to offset carbon emissions. Also  the tourist sector explores unconventional ideas to reduce the carbon footprint. An example for a carbon neutral world.

Carbon neutrality as a question of survival

Pacific islands carbon footprint is insignificant relative to global carbon dioxide emissions. They contribute to less than 0.01% of the global total of carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless the Pacific is working to minimise their emissions through renewable energy actions. Samoa followed the example of the Maldives and proclaimed the objective of “a carbon neutral economy” by 2020. Carbon neutral means that emissions are calculated in a transparent process and reduced by a shift to renewable energy. By offsetting the residual emissions, the net carbon emission balance of the country will be equal to zero. Policymakers of Samoa and Maldives know that their carbon neutral policy will not reduce global emissions in a significant way. But for the islands it is important to send a signal that a carbon neutral world is possible. Since Maldives and Samoa are severely affected by climate change, it is for them a question of survival.

Coconut energy replaces diesel

Samoa’s roadmap to carbon neutrality focuses on the energy sector. Samoa has one of the highest electrification rates in the Pacific region; approximately 98 per cent of the population has access to electricity (Liu et al., 2013). But the problem is that most energy is produced by diesel. This creates high import costs for a remote island state. A plan to get ride  off diesel serves to reduce the high import costs as well as the carbon emissions. Samoa focuses therefore its carbon neutrality plans on replacing diesel by bioenergy technologies. Biofuel generators and bioethanol cars are developed on commercial and household scale on the basis of coconuts oil. The plant is locally abundant so that no energy has to be imported.

Intelligent wind farms

The islands can also benefit from the strong coastal breeze. In 2014, Samoa has inaugurated its first wind farm. Two huge 55 meters high turbines dominate now the landscape and are expected to supply people with 1,500MWh of power each year. Due to falling winds the International Renewable Energy Association identified the Pacific as a region where renewable energy provides the most cost effective source of power (Murray, 2014). Six further wind farm projects in the region are expected to replace 1.5 million litres of diesel fuel. The clue of the Samoa wind turbines is that they can lowered and locked in place in less than 1 hour. Since heavy cyclones are abundant in the region this collapsible design is an intelligent solution to avoid damages from storm events. The project is considered as showcase for clean technologies for other island countries.

Planting of 1 million trees

The agroforestry plays an important role in the plans of Samoa of becoming carbon neutral. Reforestation actions help to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it on long term. Samoa plans to plant a million trees in the next decade to meet carbon neutrality (Ward and Atatagi, 2011). New National Parks are approved by the government to increase forest area. It also planned to restore indigenous forests which are harmed by commercial logging and invasive species. The country adopted the UN program REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) to offset carbon emissions. With this policy, Samoa seeks to get access to funding opportunities of the carbon offset programs the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM). 

Becoming a carbon neutral holiday destination?

Samoa strives also to become a carbon neutral holiday destination. This is probably the most contradictory issue. Samoa’s tour buses and tourist transportations are switched to biodiesel. But luxury resorts that attract premium rich holidaymakers are energy intensive. Not to talk about the carbon emissions of a long distance flight required to reach the remote islands. During the Small Islands Developing States Conference in September 2014, the country developed a ‘Plant a tree’ carbon offset campaign to compensate the energy used for the thousands of plane journeys of the delegates. But as all carbon offset programs, they are contested because they do not lead to an absolute cut in emissions. Samoa Air took another pathway: It is the first airline which charges passengers based in part on weight. What sounds like a discrimination for obesity is rather a carbon tax. The price is based on the passenger’s total weight plus luggage. In aviation, a higher weight means more used fuel for the transport. With this policy, the airline would like to encourage passengers to carry less freight so that the carbon footprint of the flight gets smaller. And if this encourages people to lose some pounds, this has also a good side effect for public health.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.