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ATTA Leads Climate Action In Tourism

Starting in January 2020, Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) members can take advantage of buying carbon offset credits in bulk. The bulk purchase program, called ‘Neutral Together’, is the first of its kind available to the adventure travel  industry.

Traditionally, the cost of calculating carbon emissions has been too expensive, complicated and time-consuming, especially for tour operators running small businesses with limited budgets and staff. Neutral Together, initiated by the ATTA in partnership with South Pole, drops the price of carbon offsets from approximately US$12 per tonne to approximately US$4 per tonne.

The ATTA’s president, Casey Hanisko, unveiled the bulk carbon offset program during the ATTA’s annual Adventure Travel World Summit held in Gothenburg, Sweden last week. By aggregating industry-wide emissions, the ATTA is able to offer a lower carbon offset price per tonne to its members.

Ted Martens, vice president for marketing and sustainability at Natural Habitat Adventures, who advised and supported the development of the program, said, “Historically, measuring and managing a company’s carbon footprint has been a very time-intensive and expensive endeavor, making it only accessible to companies with significant resources or steadfast environmental commitments. The bulk carbon offset program aim is to change that and make carbon management more accessible for companies of all sizes within adventure travel, and hopefully soon within the broader tourism industry.” 

According to a study published in Nature Climate Change in May 2018, tourism’s global carbon footprint accounts for approximately 8% of global carbon emissions. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, worldwide international tourist arrivals increased 6% to 1.4bn people in 2018, and 3% to 4% growth is expected throughout 2019.

To the ATTA, these numbers signalled a need to empower all those working in the travel and tourism industry to help mitigate the negative impacts of emissions-related climate change. Eager to offer its members a solution to this urgent problem, the ATTA has developed a straight-forward, cost-effective tool.

Christina Beckmann, the ATTA’s senior director for strategy and impact, said, In the past, we certainly recognized climate change was an important problem, but we now know that, in order to keep temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, we have to make significant progress in cutting emissions by 2030.

“The travel industry has a remarkable opportunity to contribute to this effort, not only through its own operations, but through the awareness and motivation for action it can catalyze among travelers. Now is the time to try and take big — not incremental — steps forward. That’s what the ATTA is trying to do with our climate action strategic initiative.”

Neutral Together allows companies to use a simple calculator to determine the carbon footprint of its tours and business operations. At the discounted cost-per-tonne price, they can then choose whether to financially support a forestry, renewable energy or cookstove project.

For example, since 2011, through the KaribaREDD forestry project in Zimbabwe, nearly 785,000 hectares of forest have been protected from deforestation and land degradation, preventing more than 18m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. A renewable energy project in India that generates electricity using wind potential prevents 479,448 tonnes of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere every year.

And a cookstove project in Rwanda provides fuel-efficient cookstoves to rural communities, which improves livelihoods and reduces emissions and the risk of smoke-related health problems.

In 2018, the ATTA began actively offsetting carbon emissions from staff travel and select hosted events. By 2020, the organisation will offset all team travel and its full portfolio of events. During its in-depth research to understand how offsetting carbon emissions works, the ATTA and South Pole began a collaboration with adventure travel tour operators, such as Natural Habitat Adventures, to develop a simplified system for calculating adventure travel company emissions using a set of generous emissions assumptions.

Recognising the opportunity for cost savings through aggregated volume, Neutral Together was conceived as a way to make carbon offset credits more affordable for companies of all sizes working in the sector.

Martens added, “What’s cool is that this program empowers those businesses that may not have historically been too involved in the climate crisis. To date, companies who have gone carbon neutral have been the hyper-committed. But now, with the ease of measurement and the relatively low cost of offsetting through this innovative program, any adventure travel business can now offer carbon neutral travel.”

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