When it’s high season on the Spanish tourist island of Mallorca, it’s not uncommon to see up to 10 planes on the horizon at once. Exactly 2,014 arrivals and departures were scheduled at Palma Airport last weekend – on average, one take-off or one landing every 90 seconds. In the summer months this is normal air traffic for Mallorca. And that has far-reaching consequences for the environment. (Also read: Ecotourism focus of the new Jharkhand policy; incentives for investors)
Tourism is responsible for 8% of global emissions
“There are few places in the world that contribute as much to global warming as Mallorca,” says Jaume Adrover, a spokesman for Mallorca-based environmental group Terraferida. “And that’s due to just one activity: tourism.”
In the past 20 years, the island’s airport has registered 1.4 million flights with 195 million passengers – most of them vacationers from countries like Germany and Great Britain.
The consequences of island tourism for the climate are enormous, says Adrover. Over the past two decades, 100 trillion tons of CO2 have been emitted from air traffic in Mallorca alone.
The Balearic island is just one example. According to experts, tourism causes about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“At first glance, that may not sound like much,” says Wolfgang Strasdas, head of research at the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences. But, he adds, there aren’t many other industries that have a bigger share.
And every single sector must make its contribution to the reduction, he explains. “Tourism is an important industry when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
reduce emission sources
It is primarily about mobility, as most emissions are caused by travel to and from the airport.
“Of course, the food on vacation also plays a role,” Strasdas points out. Tourists are adopting far more “carbon-intensive” diets, such as eating more meat than usual and having buffet meals in hotels and restaurants.
According to the German Hotel and Restaurant Association, around 17 to 50 kilograms of CO2 are generated per guest and overnight stay, depending on the star category of the hotel.
And the water consumption per person in five-star hotels is a whopping 522 liters per day.
The cruise industry also has a lot of catching up to do. “Although individual pilot projects give cause for hope, the industry as a whole is not yet on course to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreement in time,” says the Federal Environment Agency NABU.
“We can’t go on like this”
The tourism industry seems to have realized that the days of carefree travel are over. “It can’t go on like this,” said Norbert Fiebig, President of the German Travel Association DRV.
Air travel and the emissions it generates are the industry’s “Achilles’ heel,” he adds. The goal must be CO2-neutral mobility. The World Tourism Organization also makes the industry itself responsible.
Tourism’s carbon emissions increased by 60% between 2005 and 2016, according to the Glasgow Declaration, presented at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference and which has now been signed by 600 tourism industry representatives. They have all committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 at the latest.
But that won’t be easy. In the aviation industry of all places, no fundamental changes are to be expected, at least in the short term.
“Progress in this area has been so slow that there are serious doubts about the aviation industry’s ability to meet its zero-emissions target by mid-century,” said think tank Transport & Environment.
Waiting for alternative fuels to be developed could prove counterproductive as large-scale production is still a long way off. In addition, the volume of air travel continues to increase year after year, which wipes out savings.
As of now, less flying is the most effective way to reduce emissions in this area.
Airfares reflect true costs
There is another problem: if you want to book a last-minute holiday on Mallorca in August, for example, you can find flights from Germany from as little as 140 euros – mind you, return flights.
For Strasdas: “It’s far too cheap.” Airfares must reflect the environmental costs, tax advantages that the aviation industry still enjoys must be eliminated and an international CO2 emissions trading system must be introduced, he believes.
He doesn’t consider it a problem that with higher prices many people might no longer be able to afford a Mallorca holiday. “It’s not a human right,” he says. “It’s not about depriving someone of the opportunity to go on vacation.” He adds that people can visit other nearby destinations.
Adrover would also like to see a reduction in the number of holidaymakers coming to Mallorca. But he doesn’t really think that’s going to happen. He is concerned about the investment plans currently being made by the airport; According to official information, the airport operator is investing around 200 million euros in modernization in Palma alone.
However, Adrover suspects that the airport wants to covertly expand its capacity.
Then it could get even fuller in the sky over the island.
This article was originally written in German.