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Kepa Solaun, climate change expert: “In a large part of the tourism sector, the focus is almost exclusively on the short term and we are not in a position to strategically address these types of future challenges”

The CEO of Global Factor and also President of the Spanish Association for the Energy Economy in Spain was invited by the Eurochile Business Foundation to present – remotely – the experiences of calculating emissions that he carried out for the tourism sector in Spain and Montenegro in the Seminar “Climate Change and Tourism”, organised by the Undersecretary of Tourism and Sernatur. In this interview, the specialist reports on the scope of his study and addresses the challenges and opportunities of the global and national industry on its way to achieving decarbonisation goals.

Publicado el 12/12/2022

At the recent COP27 held in Egypt, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) brought together the main stakeholders of the sector seeking to combine criteria on how to accelerate the shift towards greater sustainability and achieve the goal of halving its carbon emissions to 2030 and reach Net-Zero no later than 2050.

The balance of the event was positive in the words of the executive director of the UNWTO, Zoritsa Urosevic: “We are proud to see the way the Glasgow Declaration has inspired our sector into action. Unlocking finance and developing measurement frameworks will be critical to scaling-up our support and continue accelerating climate action for resilience.”

Climate action refers to efforts to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen adaptive capacity to climate-induced impacts. An area of work in which the Spanish Kepa Solaun is a specialist, who since 2004 has advised a series of projects through Global Factor where he is Founding Partner and CEO.

Solaun was invited by Eurochile to participate – remotely – in the Seminar “Climate Change and Tourism”, organized by the Undersecretary of Tourism and Sernatur and where successful experiences of mitigation practices and measures were shared. It was the opportunity to present the results of the measurement of the impact of climate change in the tourism sector of Spain and Montenegro that his consultant carried out.

As Solaun explains in an interview with Eurochile, “within the projects developed to date focused on aspects of mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the tourism sector, these two countries seemed to be good examples of the application of different methodologies for calculating GHG emissions. In both cases, the focus of the study was national, but the starting data made it necessary to carry out different approximations to arrive at the estimate of GHG emissions from the sector”.

The Global Factor study focused on calculating CO2 emissions and for this it applied different methodological approaches to measure the carbon footprint depending on the country. What are the two visions and why were they used for these experiences?

To estimate the sector’s GHG emissions, two different approaches can be taken. On the one hand, an approach from above – below or top down, and on the other, an approach from below – above or bottom up. In the first case, work is done with macro tools, almost always of an economic nature, that allow working at the country level. In the second case, the starting information is that of the sector, such as, for example, energy consumption, kilometers traveled or waste generated per tourist or per average stay. This second approach is used above all when working with a local or regional scope.

Normally, the application of one or another methodology responds to the type of information available, as well as the objectives that are to be achieved with the study. In the case of top-down methodologies, the approach tends to be more strategic and long-term, to set macro action paths for the sector. In the second case, when the information available is more specific, it makes it possible to identify reduction measures in the short term and to estimate their impact with greater precision than with the top-down approach.

How was the process for accounting and preparing GHG reports?

These types of studies always have a certain degree of complexity and it is necessary to establish hypotheses and assumptions, based on information and existing expert knowledge. For this reason, at Global Factor we normally look for the work teams to combine both experience in calculating GHG emissions and their methodologies, with specific knowledge of the sector and of the country or region where we are going to carry out the study.
The key in the process is the gathering of information, since it is the basis for everything else. This phase of the work is also usually the one that lasts the longest. Based on the information, the treatment and calculation phase begins, in addition to the contrast with sector and local experts.

What results gave the measurements with each methodology?

In both cases, the GHG emissions associated with tourism in both countries were estimated. The difference is that in the Spanish case there were no specific activity data (i.e fuel consumption or km travelled) and in the case of Montenegro they did. The aim of both studies was different, so this was not a problem. In the first case, the aim was to propose a long-term roadmap for the sector to deal with climate change and in the second case, a methodology was sought that could be applied annually to measure the effect of the measures that were defined from the first emission results.

You have said that the carbon footprint is not only about the results, but also about what can be done with it, for example, share, control, reduce, compensate. What would be the best option?

The estimation of GHG emissions is always carried out in order to identify ways to reduce them. Of course, it is important to inform and carry out periodic follow-ups of the same, but the reduction is the ultimate goal of the calculation, everything must start there.

However, not all emissions are refutable with current technologies, so there is an option to offset them with reductions that occur elsewhere. There are internationally recognized standards, such as the Gold Standard or Verra, which certify that these emission reductions are taking place and control that they are not used more than once.

Global Factor has launched a new initiative this year called OffCarbon, through which we are promoting the development of projects that reduce GHG emissions that can be certified and used to offset.

Some experts warn that the focus to combat climate change should be on adaptation rather than mitigation. What do you think? If so, which roadmap would be the most effective for the tourism sector?

Climate change is producing a series of impacts to which it is necessary to adapt, and its future evolution indicates that they will be more intense and frequent as time progresses. However, the cause continues to be GHG emissions, so we cannot ignore the importance of continuing to make efforts to reduce emissions. As the Paris Agreement made clear, both aspects are essential and complementary in many cases.

As for the tourism sector, the focus should be twofold. Address, on the one hand, the reduction of GHG emissions with measures that support the decarbonisation of the sector, through energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable transport. But without forgetting to carry out an analysis in each case of how climate change can affect tourism and establish strategies to reduce its vulnerability to future climate. Here, unfortunately, I cannot point to a common roadmap, since it depends a lot on each region, both on the characteristics of its tourism and on the climate projections that are available for the area.

How is a mitigation or adaptation plan financed? How important is the advice from the public and private sectors?

To answer the question, I am going to differentiate what is the phase of elaboration of the plan itself, from what is the implementation phase. Obviously, the second phase is the one with the highest associated costs. Different actors usually intervene in its financing, many of the actions will be promoted by the private sector. From the administration it can be supported through incentives, such as financial aid or instruments that serve to recognize those most involved, in addition to the application of obligations regulated by law.

At the international level, there are also numerous bilateral and multilateral organizations that are supporting decarbonisation and adaptation to climate change, through donations or loans, among other economic instruments. In addition, public-private collaboration also allows a better application of the planned measures and there are many countries that are already making efforts in this regard.

On the other hand, technical advice is key, both in the first phase of preparation of the plan itself, and later in its implementation. A series of technical studies are needed, such as carbon footprints and GHG emissions inventories or climate risk analysis, which must be carried out by professionals who know and use the appropriate methodologies.

Taking into account the economic effects that the pandemic brought on the tourism sector worldwide, what are your projections for climate change in the short or medium term? Could they be more negative if the sector is reactivated without doing so in a sustainable way or is your vision optimistic?

It is a difficult question to answer. The situation that the sector has experienced with the COVID pandemic has been extreme and sudden, with no time or capacity to adapt to the situation. Undoubtedly, if the commitment to reducing GHG emissions is not continued, climate change will lead us to a future of extremes. However, changes occur gradually, which allows us to establish strategies to strengthen our ability to adapt to them. Furthermore, the steps taken in the last decade towards global decarbonization, as well as the increased general awareness, make me optimistic. Currently, the international commitment, both from public and private actors, to reduce GHG emissions are clear. Technological advances in this sense are already being important and I believe that their development in the following years will be even greater, offering solutions in those areas where the reduction of emissions is more complex.

A key issue here will be the tourist’s sensitivity to the topic and to what extent they will push for changes in the direction of sustainability.

Chile is the first developing country to have a Climate Change Framework Law. How can you capitalize on this milestone in the tourism sector?

The Framework Law on Climate Change approved in Chile is a very important step for the different sectors of the country, including tourism. The Law establishes the goal of carbon neutrality and resilience for 2050, an ambitious objective that is in line with many international initiatives and that offers many options for the country’s development in environmental, economic and social matters.

This milestone could allow the Chilean tourism industry to take fundamental steps in the development of a responsible and respectful activity with the environment, through different lines of action and concrete measures that require the commitment of all the key players within the sector. The Law will promote a modern and resilient transformation of the tourism sector, from transport to construction or the way of doing tourism until now.

The tourism industry in all its fields may register in the public registry of GHG emissions proposed by the Law, as well as obtain certificates that confirm the reduction or absorption of gases through the implementation of projects in Chile for this purpose. In addition, it will promote the modernization of its infrastructures, through an implementation of constructions based on energy efficiency, which will support a more sustainable, profitable sector thanks to green energies. Uniting sustainable technologies tourism in Chile is possible, to also create an economically viable and environmentally friendly ecosystem.

What is your opinion of the work that Eurochile Business Foundation develops within the framework of the Circular Economy Roadmap?

The transition from a linear to a circular economy is a complex process that requires a significant transformation in the ways of producing and consuming, and without the collaboration of organisations like Eurochile it would be impossible to achieve it. Only in this way is it possible to consolidate joint strategies to promote this progress towards circularity and innovation within the economy, and everything that this directly and indirectly entails.

The work that they are developing from the foundation to promote, especially, that the private sector knows and has the possibility of developing a Circular Economy Roadmap will also support the consolidation of links with Europe. All of this will help to further drive, supporting the international dissemination of this economic, energy and climate transition and fostering collaboration between companies, as well as exchanging experiences and strengthening environmental entrepreneurship through cooperation.

From now on, where should the efforts be placed to make the tourism sector in the world more resilient to climate change?

The sector should already have reasons to be resilient, since its own competitiveness and, in some cases, its survival are at stake. Consider, for example, winter sports tourism in areas where you will have to rely almost exclusively on artificial snow. But something similar happens in different sun and beach destinations.

The question is to what extent the sector is prepared to look at the long term and make decisions to reduce that vulnerability now. In a large part of the sector, the focus is almost exclusively on the short term and it is not in a position to strategically address this type of future challenges.

Here, public and private institutions play an essential role in disseminating information and providing tools to visualize and understand the expected impacts and design measures to address them preventively.