Foreign holidaymakers account for 95 percent of tourism-related emissions in the Maldives, a new study has revealed.
The study, published earlier this week in Nature Climate Change and a world-first, looked at whether travellers or destinations were responsible for tourism-related carbon emissions.
It said the carbon footprint of global tourism is bigger than previously thought and that small island states have the highest per-capita destination-based footprints.
Almost a third of the Maldives GDP comes from tourism – there were almost 1.4 million arrivals last year – and the country is famed for its beaches and dive spots. But it is also vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
Tourism and development underpin the Maldivian economy but also threaten the archipelago’s biodiversity and environment – the very things used to promote the country as a holiday destination.
“We feel there is no easy solution,” said one of the study’s authors Dr Ya-Yen Sun, when asked if there was an easy way for the Maldives to resolve the conundrum.
“For local tourism development, there are generally some sustainable approaches available such as the promotion of ecotourism or green lodges,” she told the Maldives Independent.
“However climate change patterns – the rising sea level or the deterioration of nature – are crises that cannot be overcome by the local government solely. This is why small island states are one of those destinations that will have the most to lose in the tourism context under climate change.”
The study includes direct emissions and indirect emissions from aviation and other transport services, accommodation, dining, recreational activities and shopping in its definition of carbon footprint.
Dr Sun, a senior lecturer in tourism discipline at the University of Queensland, explained how the impact of the tourism-related carbon footprint in the Maldives differed from that in Spain or Thailand.
“Foreign visitors contribute a substantially higher proportion of tourism emissions in the Maldives,” she said.
“Foreign visitors have to fly longer distances to reach the Maldives…leads to a higher carbon emissions per journey (and) small island states generally have less capacity for technological innovation in energy use. It would take further analysis to confirm whether the Maldives reflects the same pattern.”
She suggested some everyday steps that could be adopted by locally run guesthouses and high-end resorts to reduce the carbon footprint of foreign visitors, such as embracing renewable energy, supporting carbon offset and using low-carbon goods and services from suppliers.
The study was also authored by Arunima Malik, a lecturer in sustainability at the University of Sydney.