Global Tourism Takes Environmental Toll


By Mae Pyer

Globetrotting tourists who travel the world for vacations, honeymoons, and business may be boosting the global economy, but they’re also releasing more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — giving staycations new green appeal.

Tourism Takeover

With global tourism on the rise, our carbon footprints are growing. A new study reported in Nature Climate Change revealed that global travel accounts for about 8% of overall greenhouse gas emissions and impacts the environment three to four times more than previously recorded.

Earlier studies have documented the environmental impact of only air travel, but there’s much more to the story. The current study considers how the tourism industry as a whole contributes to our greenhouse gas emissions. This includes shopping, dining, hotel hopping, travel, and the construction and maintenance of corresponding establishments.

Data collected from 160 countries showed that the tourism industry is responsible for releasing 4.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually. Of that total, only 12% came from air travel. When the data was compiled in 2013, global tourism accounted for $4.7 trillion in spending, almost twice the amount reported in 2009.

As a huge source of and destination for tourists, the United States proved to have the largest tourism industry, therefore contributing the most to the global carbon footprint. Of total global emissions, 2.7% come solely from Canadian and Mexican tourists traveling to the United States. Other countries like Germany and China also contribute significantly to global emissions.

The Future of the Industry

If these trends continue, tourismrelated emissions will increase to 6.5 billion tons by 2025 — an expansion of our carbon footprint by more than 40%.

To reduce current emissions and to prevent these levels from increasing, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has suggested that travelers choose destinations that are closer to home. Opting for public transportation in these instances can also help to decrease travelrelated emissions. Additionally, they recommend that governments create incentives to increase energy efficiency in tourist-related businesses.

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways can tourists decrease their environmental impact?
  • Discuss how greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and why this dynamic concerns scientists.
  • How can you minimize your environmental impact when you’re at home and not traveling?


  • Carbon Footprint
  • Emission
  • Greenhouse Gas
  • Tourism