Tourism and Green Growth

Tourism is “Essential” BUT Climate Change is “Existential”

I want to underscore the concepts of essential and existential.

Most tourism and travel stakeholders are fully committed to the “essential” case. We’ve actually been making this for the past quarter century. Our data, institutions, leaders, budgets and staff are all pre-programmed to reverberate the same message: “We account for some 5-10% of GDP, Trade, Jobs and Investment: doubling every 10-15 years: we are a catalyst for development and a force for good.

But we are sadly far less engaged on the existential – humanity must get control of carbon in the next five years and programme a progressively tightening ‘no carbon’ era by 2050; or our grandkids will freeze or fry. The propaganda say we are leaders in that, too, but occasional keynotes, awards, indicators, certification programmes, green marketing and small scale eco-tourism say otherwise.

Historically, hotels and tour operators have undertaken reporting, certification, conservation and community outreach. Cruises have endorsed strengthening maritime environmental regulations and benefits of technology. Aviation has responded comprehensively to noise and pollution imperatives, as well as crafting a ‘4-Pillar Plan’ to increase fuel efficiency, embrace new technology, improve operations and go carbon neutral by 2050. But as the plan has been hatching, the norms on climate response have shifted. Now the prospect of a 2050 aviation carbon footprint half of today’s looks untenable - absent monumental growth in bio-fuel.

Today it’s a new ballgame, created by widespread realisation that climate change is existential. 2015 Paradigm Summits – Paris (Climate), New York (Sustainable Development Goals – SDG’s) and Addis (Financing) – create a 2030/2050 Roadmap for a more caring, sharing and ultimately, no-carbon world.

Travel & Tourism must step up to the plate with a worthy response:

  • It has to be coherent with growth aspirations and impacts – renewable energy based, inclusive, conservationist and cyber-driven.
  • It has to be in the leadership cadre of global norms, executed at local levels – smart cities, ocean strategies, nature-based solutions, socially responsible and the like.
  • It has to reflect many shades of green growth- sharing, circular, blue, steady-state etc.
  • It has to track a continuously evolving framework of carbon targets, ratcheted higher as we move to the ‘point of no return’ over the next decade, with a clearly identified shift from a 2oC maximum increase, towards 1.5oC. And a mind-blowing background of 17 SDGs, 169 Targets and 304 Indicators, already evolving rapidly across the international community
  • It has to be bottom up as well as top down, because all global agreements on Climate and SDGs recognise transformation must be aggregated from a changed base, over a multi-decade time frame.

We will need as a minimum:

  • Proper measurement, linking growth and environmental accounting in one benefits/impacts balance sheet
  • International stakeholder engagement, including NGOs with a seat at the table and accountable delivery
  • Cross-silo governance engaging disparate departments and sectors whose policy actions drive the Travelism operational framework
  • Revamped education and training systems to build climate resilience and green growth at the core rather than the periphery

And the biggest challenge

  • It will be constructed in the frenetic cyber world of 24/7 dynamic communication, instant information and entrepreneurial change, where the only fixed target is avoiding existential climate mayhem. It will have the challenges and opportunities that the World Economic Forum calls a 4th Industrial Revolution.

In summary, we face dynamic and often unpredictable change where, over the next decade, Green Growth becomes the norm, current systems transform more rapidly than ever foreseen and most solutions come from outside our sector. It will be complicated – trillions of changes, in millions of places. It will take constantly evolving thinking, perpetual adaptation, new collaborations and open minds.


And this is where the SUN program will bring some much needed light.

Crafted under the tough guidance of my friend and mentor Maurice Strong – one of the true fathers of sustainable development and Secretary General of the Rio Earth Summit – the Strong Universal Network is a testament to his vision that our sector must be a leading global sustainability change agent, through Green Growth action, innovation and education.

SUN will provide a new form of human and electronic support, for measured, progressive change, by a sector that must be in the vanguard – as communities, companies and citizens.

It will do this through an innovative system of solar powered, interconnected ‘SUN-ARKs’, tracking change, sourcing global innovation, sharing good practice and finding funding.

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 be permanently connected via the internet cloud, with access to massive publicly available global data sources for research, measurement and analysis. They will be linked to national SUN Chapters, developed with the support of ICTP (International Coalition of Tourism Partners). This 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.

This Team will be fused to all other SUNARKs in the increasing global network, giving each destination real-time access to an expanding system of information, data exchange and programme delivery.

Destinations will also have access to a SUN Green Growth Transformation Hub, where global and local companies will be able to offer commercial support services necessary to measure, adapt and evolve, as well as to deliver and promote the new green products.

It is this international Green Growth network – part human, part cyber – that will help Travelism to move to the forefront of climate resilience and sustainable development. SUN-ARKS will act as policy support units, educational hubs, capacity building centres and demonstration sites for Travelism, local climate resilience and SDG adaptation initiatives, as well as training venues for policymakers, practitioners and students.

The first SUN-ARK will be placed in the National Park, Hoge Kempen in Limburg in Belgium in 2016. The Park is perfectly positioned as a global model, with a renowned environmentalist Director, Ignace Schops, whose Re-connection approach, linking nature, people and cities, will be integrated into the SUN system. Its major IPCC-linked science project, with the University of Hasselt, to measure real-time climate impacts will also be reflected, as will the tourism dimensions of the University’s mobility and architectural groups. Last but not least, our community cultural role will be well covered through close links with the nearby studio of world famous artist Koen Vanmechelen and his ‘Open University of Diversity’.

We have assembled a Board that reflects the brave new world of climate resilience, SDG transformation and the 4th Industrial Revolution – with Felix Dodds, former Director of the Multistakeholder Forum, Tom Goldberg MBE, Chair of the SUNARK construction group, Brindusa Fidanza, CEO of the Ground Up Project, driving small business impact investment, along with Ignace and myself.

2016 will be spent on bedding down the concept, testing the model in Belgium, putting in place key web-based sharing structures, sourcing funds and framing outreach – particularly national chapters to galvanise the system.

2017, the international Year of Sustainable Tourism, will see establishment of the regional SUN system around the world, with global deployment thereafter.

We will need friends, collaborators and partners everywhere – the task is existential. If you’re interested, please take a look at

Prof. Geoffrey Lipman FTS l President ICTP. Founder SUN.

Published in The Tourism Journal 21st June 2016


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