Guardian Op-Ed September 17, 2015

2015: 'Once in a lifetime' chance for green growth and travelism

by Geoffrey Lipman and Felix Dodds

The SDGs reframe the Earth Summit agreements into a new global blueprint for the 21st century a ‘transformational agenda’ for sustainable development to 2030 and beyond. As the world moves to sustainable development goals and climate resilience strategies,we firmly believe the vital Travelism (Travel & Tourism) sector is behind the curve.

“Travelism thrives on peace and sustainability and is an essential contributor to it. Tourism which is such an important contributor to the economies of most countries provides them with a strong incentive to maintain internal security, protect the human rights of their people…and provide them with expanding opportunities.” - Maurice Strong, secretary general of the Stockholm (1972) and Rio (1992) United Nations conferences.

Next week’s United Nations (UN) heads of state summit on the sustainable development goals is a key element of a coherent global strategy for a better future for humanity. By the end of this year, we will have seen three such summits starting with development finance in Addis in July, and ending on carbon targets in Paris in December.

Despite its massive societal significance, this is only a staging post in our post industrial development. For more than half a century, and particularly since the 1992 Rio Earth summit, the world community – in hundreds of thousands of discussions, across nations, peoples and industries – has increasingly shaped this progressive shared economic, social and environmental framework. One that seeks to balance benefits and impacts of human change, with safety nets against extreme shocks and climate resilience as the universal existential challenge.

The SDGs reframe the Earth summit agreements into a new global blueprint for the 21st century a “transformational agenda” for sustainable development to 2030 and beyond. It’s a long journey, with each country, locality and individual coming from a different starting point, with unique capacities and reasons to change. Ultimately we have to get to the same end point by 2050 – the date, where science and politics are converging on liveable global temperature stabilisation. With new multi-billion dollar funds, legal frameworks and collaborations to support that change.

This paradigm lifestyle shift is expressed in many ways but the idea of “green growth” – where growth is decoupled from impacts – seems to ideally capture the right direction for change. “Growth” to raise people from poverty and provide new jobs for a rapidly expanding global population. “Green” for technology enabled, low carbon renewable energy, with strong social inclusion, smart basic resource use and increased focus on nature conservation. With environmental balance fully integrated into policy, regulation and operational frameworks, and climate and disaster resilience a major underpinning.

Tourism – travel for leisure and business – is critical to this better future. It is part of a larger “Travelism ecosystem” which spans several transport, hospitality and support industries as well as government agencies and the essential soft and hard infrastructure. Not just international but the much larger domestic flows, as well as surface and maritime travel. It is a strategic development priority – a major economic contributor at 5-10% of GDP, jobs, consumption, investment and trade, which is forecast to double every ten to fifteen years.

At the same time, impacts of the industry from carbon (transport and buildings), resource utilisation (water, food, and waste) and “people congestion” have not been effectively measured managed or regulated. And there are no comparable cost figures, because except for limited sustainability reporting, certification, indicators and awards, virtually all industry and government focus has been on benefits.

As the world moves to sustainable development goals and climate resilience strategies, we firmly believe this vital sector is behind the curve and must radically change traditional practices to play its full part in the existential societal shift against overuse of “the commons”, in favour of human rights and with sustainable community lifestyles.

For our part, we have shared this global transformation journey for many years within UN & travelism systems. Inspired always by our friend Maurice Strong - a key architect of today’s global change & advocate of tourism as tomorrow’s sustainable development game changer.

Three issues underpin lasting change:
• Good governance: with coherent, transparent “joined up” policies and processes, closely aligned to the new SDG and climate programs. Incorporating nature based solutions, smart regulation, best industry practice and local implementation.
• Meaningful metrics: bringing travelism and environmental accounting together into a structurally linked balance sheet approach. With the same evidenced based advocacy for sustainability and carbon reduction as for benefits and growth.
• Engaged education: today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders for a better future. Travelism school curricula, university courses and digital learning must incorporate green growth as a key change agent.

In this spirit, with likeminded colleagues, we are building SUN (the strong universal network), an international green growth system to increase the capacity of travelism for climate resilience and sustainability at the local community level. It will do this through a global network of innovative solar powered monitoring and learning centres, with a cloud based connectivity platform, manned by smart well trained and educated thinkers.

Linking travelism with fundamental change areas such as innovation, renewables, big data, impact investment etc. It will connect “green” and “growth” fulfilling Maurice Strong’s wake up call to the sector for “Real action, targets, measurement and a new mind-set linking economic, climate, social and environmental response with global inclusion as a fundament.”

Felix Dodds is a senior fellow at the Global Research institute University of North Carolina and an associate fellow at the Tellus Institute in Boston. He has written or edited 13 books on sustainable development and for Rio+20 with Maurice Strong and Michael Strauss the book ‘Only One Earth’. He blogs regularly here. Geoffrey Lipman is a visiting professor at Victoria University in Australia and Hasselt University in Belgium. He was executive director of IATA, president of WTTC and assistant secretary general at UNWTO. He has co-authored books on green growth and travelism, and has worked closely with Maurice Strong since Rio 1992, and latterly in China. He is curator of SUN. 



Geoffrey Lipman, SUNx Co-founder


This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

The site will not function correctly without cookies. Learn more

I understand

Newsletter Sign Up

Invalid Input
Invalid Input
Invalid Input
This form collects your name and email and adds you to our mailing list. Please consent to this below.
Invalid Input