New Tourism Coalition Brings Together World Leaders at COP26 to Accelerate Net Zero Transition

A new coalition will accelerate tourism's transition to net zero, audiences at COP26 heard today. Ministers from major tourism destinations and leaders from international organizations have voiced their support to achieve a sustainable travel and tourism industry, through the Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC).

Global tourism leaders on a panel at COP 26 to discuss the New Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC) commitment to achieving net-zero emissions.
Global tourism leaders on a panel at COP 26 to discuss the New Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC) commitment to achieving net-zero emissions. Image Credit: Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC)

The STGC is a multi-country, multi-stakeholder coalition established to lead, accelerate, and track the tourism industry's transition to net-zero emissions, as well as drive action to protect nature and support communities.

The tourism industry is highly fragmented, with developing countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) being most reliant on tourism for their economies. More than 40 million tourism businesses – or 80 percent of the whole industry – are small or medium sized. The STGC aims to support people and the planet by reforming tourism's contribution to climate change, in a bid to protect the environment and support those who need it most.

At a special session on the future of the STGC at COP26, His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, was joined by former President of Mexico and Chair of New Climate Economy, and the World Resources Institute, Felipe Calderon; David Livingston, Senior Advisor, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and other leaders.

The Center's strategy will be shaped by a coalition of governments, international organizations, academia, multilateral and financing institutions and industry associations.

The countries invited to be part of this important coalition in phase one, are the UK, USA, France, Japan, Germany, Kenya, Jamaica, Morocco, Spain, and Saudi Arabia. These countries have prioritized climate, tourism and SMEs which will allow for synergies for this important initiative

The top organizations that will help to shape the center and provide the services in phase one are WRI (World Resource Institute), UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), ICC (International Chamber of Commerce), WTTC (World Travel and Tourism Council), World Bank, and SYSTEMIQ. In addition to Harvard University, which will provide support to the STGC through research and capacity-building, while the UNFCCC will guide the Center to accelerate industry action on climate neutrality.

The Center will deliver services and products across three core pillars, including knowledge creation and sharing, measurement and monitoring, and industry enablement. Across these pillars, the STGC will focus on at least in nine areas of industry support, including developing standards and resource provision for the tourism sector, capability building, and project funding and investment.

The Center will be headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and plans to open regional offices in other countries, with a strong multilingual online presence.

Other countries and organizations will be invited to join in phase two. In addition, a group of global experts in tourism and climate is being assembled to support this important effort.

His Excellency Ahmed Al Khateeb, Minister of Tourism, Saudi Arabia, said:

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the interconnectedness of humanity and nature, and the fragility of communities dependent on tourism to external shocks. We must act now to make the industry and local communities far more resilient and to help solve the challenge of climate change. That requires engaging with business, governments, and international organizations to accelerate action. Saudi Arabia is committed to contributing to this critical effort."

President Felipe Calderon, Former President of Mexico and Chairman, World Resources Institute, said:

"We share this initiative with global leaders who joined our mission to make tourism a lever toward achieving the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a window of opportunity for business and governments to come together to drive these critical objectives, and the STGC will serve as a 'north star' to achieve this mission."

Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism of Jamaica, said:

"The Government of Jamaica, as a Small Island Developing State and vulnerable economy, remains committed to resilience building for sustainable development, including through sustainable tourism. In this regard, Jamaica welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Sustainable Tourism Global Center to contribute to and benefit from this collaborative effort to secure a better planet for future generations."

Janet Rogan. United Kingdom COP Regional Ambassador for Middle East and Africa, said:

"We are proud to be hosting COP26. Humanity has run down the clock on climate change. It is now time to take action. Tourism is a key sector that supports jobs and growth and we are pleased to be part of this important new initiative to accelerate the sector's transition to net zero."

Her Excellency Fatim-Zahra Ammor, Minister of Tourism, Handicrafts and Social Economy Morocco said:

"Under the guidance of his Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God bless him, The Kingdom of Morocco made sustainability one of the main pillars of its former sectorial strategies as well as its new development model. During the last two years, the whole world has been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and tourism is one of the most affected sectors. It is crucial to join our efforts to build and co-design a sustainable recovery plan related to travel and tourism activities. The Sustainable Tourism Global Center is an important step towards this goal."

Hon. Najib Balala, Cabinet Secretary of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenya said:

"As one of Africa's most popular destinations for international visitors, Kenya has felt the full impact of the global tourism downturn as a result of the pandemic. We therefore agree that there is an urgent need for a new sustainable approach to global tourism. Along with our recently launched Wildlife Strategy 2030 which will ensure a thriving natural ecosystem under pressure from climate change, we are strong supporters of the Sustainable Tourism Global Center."

Her Excellency Maria Reyes Maroto, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Spain said:

"COP26 provides an ideal setting to confirm our commitment to help tourism contributing to the global challenge of climate change. As a world leader in tourism, Spain is promoting initiatives in sustainable tourism aiming to preserve the natural environment, to improve energy efficiency in the sector and to adopt the principles of the circular economy. This will accelerate the contribution of tourism to the green transition drawn by the European Green Deal. Spain is an active member in international initiatives such as Planet's Sustainable Tourism Programme, and it will remain an active partner working at a global level with other countries, in particular developing countries, as well as with international institutions and business representatives."

Julia Simpson, World Travel & Tourism Council President and CEO, said:

"At a time where leadership is most needed to address the climate emergency, we commend Saudi Arabia's initiative that will support the sector to achieve the global goals and ensure a sustainable future. WTTC is delighted to contribute to the Center through its unique data, research and expertise from businesses across the globe."

John W. H. Denton AO, International Chamber of Commerce Secretary General, said:

"I applaud the – multi-country and multi-stakeholder effort – to accelerate sustainability within the global tourism sector. Given the impacts of COVID-19 on the strength of the sector, partnerships will be vital to ensure small tourism operators can genuinely build back better — and become a powerful force for local communities and our planet.

"The International Chamber of Commerce – as the institutional representative of more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries and as official UNFCCC Focal Point for Business and Industry – looks forward to supporting the development of the Hub in the coming months — and to connecting its work with our global business network, in particular the millions of small businesses in the tourism sector."

Gloria Guevara, Chief Special Advisor to HE Ahmed Al Khateeb, said:

"The tourism sector has been through so much throughout this pandemic and combined with the urgency of a response to climate change, it needs a global solution. SMEs in our sector – like a travel agency or tour operator – might not know their carbon footprint and how to contribute to the race to zero. Every time we go on holiday, we create jobs and reduce poverty, it would be great if we reach a point that the more, we go on holiday, the better it is for the planet. The multi-country, multi-stakeholder coalition will bring tourism's fragmented stakeholders together and provide knowledge to drive action now."

Dr. Ramon Sanchez, Principal Investigator, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard University, said:

"To create a truly sustainable global tourism industry, all community, business, and government stakeholders require the tools, frameworks, and best practices necessary to contribute to reaching this objective. The team at Harvard is excited to collaborate with the STGC on research that will play a critical role in building the foundation and driving the industry toward net-zero".

Jeremy Oppenheim, founder, SYSTEMIQ, a global advisory and investment firm which specialises in Paris Agreement-aligned sectoral transformations and is supporting the STGC, said:

"The STGC aims to bring together the many tourism-related sectors - aviation, hospitality, transport and catering services – into a world-class, multi-stakeholder coalition that can help transform the industry especially SMEs, from one that generates 8% of global greenhouse emissions to one that is a driver of a net-zero, regenerative world."

Niclas Svenningsen, Manager for Global Climate Action - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

"Tourism is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change and one of the sectors that has most to contribute with to the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Climate action offers a win-win opportunity to recover economies, communities and countries in a sustainable and climate friendly fashion."

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