Climate Change is Tourism’s Existential Threat: Lipman

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If we don’t deal with climate change “we will not exist”, said International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) President Professor Geoffrey Lipman in his keynote address at Mekong Tourism Forum (MTF) 2016, July 6.

Prof Geoffrey Lipman said climate change was an "existential threat" and that we needed a “green growth tourism strategy” in the Mekong region

Prof Geoffrey Lipman said climate change was an “existential threat” and that we needed a “green growth tourism strategy” in the Mekong region

Prof Lipman highlighted the need to develop a “green growth tourism strategy” in the Mekong region in order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

With average water levels just five feet (1.5m) above sea level, and with seasonal flooding patterns, the Mekong region is particularly susceptible to climate change, he said.

Prof Lipman’s message is that “climate change is existential”. If we do not get control of carbon in the next five years and progressively move toward a ‘no carbon’ era by 2050, “our grandchildren will freeze or fry”.

The Mekong region can take a lead in mobilising the travel industry using 2017—the International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development—as a launch pad, he said.

Sustainability is at the core of MTF 2016’s theme of authenticity. “There is authenticity in every community,” Prof Lipman said, before warning that it can so often be a victim of its own success.

The massive opportunities to benefit from the rise of China and India have to be weighed up against massive threats to the character and uniqueness of destinations; their authenticity. Therefore the challenge for tourism stakeholders is to maintain authenticity by focusing on quality over quantity.

Furthermore, aviation’s contribution to climate change will increasingly come under the microscope, posing a massive challenge for that sector and knock-on effects for everyone else.

Prof Lipman identified opportunities for travel and tourism stakeholders to get ahead of the curve, including: Public strategy; Public-private partnership funding; Impact investment; Glocalisation (According to Oxford University Press, “glocalisation” is the practice of conducting business according to both local and global considerations); Green growth; Measure to manage; Linking to SDGs and climate targets; Multi-stakeholder engagement; and Education & training.

The former Executive Director of International Air Transport Association (IATA), former President of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), and former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said of the challenges ahead: “We will need friends, collaborators and partners everywhere—the task is existential.”

Will SUN Light the Way?

In addition to his ICTP presidency, Prof Lipman is Director of Greenearth.travel and founder of The SUN Program, the latter of which he introduced to MTF 2016 delegates.

The Strong Universal Network (SUN) is aimed at providing “a new form of human and electronic support for measured, progressive change by a sector that must be in the vanguard”.

Pre-fabricated solar-powered ‘SUN-ARKs’ will will be inter-connected via the internet cloud, with access to global data sources for research, measurement, and analysis.

Pre-fabricated solar-powered ‘SUN-ARKs’ will be inter-connected via the internet cloud, with access to global data sources for research, measurement, and analysis.

It will do this through a system of solar-powered ‘SUN-ARKs’ that track change, source global innovation and funding, and share good practice. SUN-ARKs will be inter-connected via the internet cloud, with access to global data sources for research, measurement, and analysis.

Each prefabricated unit will be delivered in a container and positioned throughout the world in a range of communities; linking national parks, urban centres and tourism destinations.

SUN-ARKs will bring together interested stakeholders around a local university, managed by a team of three trained, ‘glocally’ focused post-graduate researchers, to provide Green Growth & Travelism-related data insights, funding advice, innovation sourcing and strategy support.

The ARKs will be linked to national SUN Chapters developed with the support of ICTP.

The panel discussion that followed Prof Lipman’s keynote address—featuring senior MoT/NTO representatives of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam—explored topics such as community consultation and engagement in tourism planning; the silo of tourism relative to other government departments; the equitable distribution of tourism’s benefits; and appropriate measures and indicators that track tourism’s alignment with the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office (MTCO) welcomes contributions from experts and writers on the subjects of climate change, sustainable tourism development, and authentic travel. Click here to discover more about our contributor program.

Presentations from Mekong Tourism Forum 2016 are available for download here.

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