World Green Tourism Award (5 December, 2011)

Inaugural Address by Maurice F. Strong at Presentation of World Green Tourism, Abu Dhabi, December 5th, 2011.

I am deeply moved and immensely grateful to be receiving this inaugural World Green Award here today. I have had a life-long involvement in Tourism and its relationship to the environment which have been at the center of my main interests. This Award gives me further incentive to continue to give this relationship, which we now call “Green Tourism”, high priority in my life. This makes me so especially pleased and privileged to be here with you as leaders in the movement committed to make green tourism a principal means of ensuring the sustainability of the human future.

My experience in tourism and travel dates from my childhood when I grew up in a small town in Canada through which ran the transcontinental railroad as well as the main highway. I wondered about the wider world to which this connected me and longed to know more about it. I set out to do so at an early age. I first saw much of Canada and then the world. For me, travel and tourism were synonymous as I traveled in order to see the world. Later I started a travel business, centered first in Canada and then internationally.

Life-long interest

My interest in nature also developed early and gave rise to my life-long interest in the environment. My early involvement in the environmental movement gave me a great opportunity to travel to advance the cause with others around the world.

I soon came to realize the basic relationship between the environment and tourism - that nature’s wonders are great assets to the tourism industry, that tourism must protect and maintain. At the same time, tourism that is not responsibly managed can be one of the greatest threats to these wonders. I came to recognize, too, the subtle distinction between tourism and travel.

Tourism, of course, always involves travel: while much travel is local and not for purposes of tourism. To add to the confusion, business travel is part of the tourism mix. My good friend, Professor Geoffrey Lipman, has coined the term “Travelism” to recognize this relationship.

The world's largest industry

Travelism in its multiple dimensions is arguably the world’s largest industry. It certainly is one of the most pervasive driving the process of globalization and contributing to the economies of even the smallest communities, providing an ever expending linkage between the local and the global. Small and medium size businesses are the main instruments of this process, with multinationals as the visible global face.

Transport, Trade and Communications, - increasingly the internet and social media - are the principal instruments for effecting these linkages, each the products of the remarkable progress in the development and application of new technologies. This is reflected in the rapid expansion of air travel, high speed rail transport and highway networks, as well as the capacity to respond to humanitarian crises, and the phenomenal internationalization of sports and recreation. The systemic relationships of these developments are inextricably related to the expansion of travel and tourism as both instruments and beneficiaries of change.

At the same time, these linkages also multiply our risks and vulnerabilities – the rapid transmission of health threats, the impact of natural disasters, the costs of energy and food and volatility in the markets for so many key commodities. The resulting crisis conditions are now afflicting the economies of the United States and Europe, affecting most countries and impacting especially the poor and disadvantaged in both developing and more industrialized countries.

The economic and financial crisis

The economic and financial crises highlight the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the winners and losers, in all countries. The deepening rich-poor divide is producing growing tensions and citizen protests as evidenced in the rapid expansion of the movement which began with the occupation of Wall Street. History provides little evidence that the rich and the privileged will voluntarily give up their wealth and privileges to any significant degree to help the poor and disadvantaged. This has always occurred only in response to revolution and mass movements. The protests we are witnessing today could be the first steps in this direction.

This is clearly a time of momentous change on a scale that will have a profound effect on the human future. The theme of this Event and the influence of the participants in it provide a timely opportunity, indeed I would say a special responsibility – to consider how green travelism contributes to this problem and can best contribute to its solutions.

The environment as nature’s capital is the greatest single resource for tourism and this provides a powerful incentive for the industry to protect it. It makes green tourism a necessity for the industry, not merely a fringe issue too often receiving more lip service than real commitment. Yet there is within the industry a disturbing tendency towards what we call “Green Washing”. This clearly undermines our efforts to protect the environment on which tourism, indeed all life, depends.

An absolute necessity

The industry must integrate “green” as an absolute necessity for its own future and the responsibilities it has for the entire human future. As your core strategic and operational dna. Simultaneously, this new travelism vision and action commitment must be integrated into the mainstream movement for radical global change that will inevitably gather momentum as we approach Rio+20 and the realization that we are simply running out of time. Frankly your industry needs an enlightened but radically reinvigorated agenda for green growth transformation. For the kind of practical and systemic action required for a comprehensive and integrated response to the challenge of greening of the sector. With an eye on the 2050 climate imperatives and the 2015 development realities but with a real commitment to start now. You can build on what has been done before but it needs real action, targets, measurement and a new kind of mindset that links economic, climate, social and environmental response and that understands glo-cal inclusion is a fundament. I am convinced you can make much more of your unique positioning if you fully integrate the interests of local communities into strategic policy in a meaningful way. In a sustainable green growth world, destinations will have the ultimate responsibility for their destiny.

I urge you to start this process here today. Not simply with another fine declaration but with a commitment to action targeted towards Rio +20 and measurable transformation mechanics. You can contribute to the leadership required and can have great influence on the prospects for commitment by others. As we have seen, a small number of committed and active visionaries can make a difference in the social media, web driven age.

Let me also call your attention to a fundamental issue in this change agenda – the importance of linking environmental and travelism education: particularly for the next leadership generation who will have to drive the most challenging changes. I am involved in an initiative, with likeminded colleagues to launch a World Environment University centered in the Island province of Jeju in South Korea. Within that framework the establishment of a World Tourism Institute will be a priority element for reasons which I have outlined today – and hopefully as a torchbearer of the green growth 2050 vision. This is envisaged as the center of a global network of inspired organizations and institutions in the field. It is an area in which Abu Dhabi and the Gulf Community could play an influential, even leading, role – given your emerging position as an aviation led global travelism hub.

Virtual tourism

With systemic increases of long distance travel, the industry must give higher priority to tourism that requires smarter travel – sometimes looking at less invasive transport, other times considering real compensation for the impacts and recognizing that there is an emerging world of virtual tourism requiring no travel at all. Indeed, CNN has begun to offer virtual tourism by television.

While local environmental conditions affect the tourism potential of virtually all destinations, the growing risks of climate change provide the greatest threats ever to the sustainability and security of life everywhere. Travelism is a victim of as well as a contributor to climate change as result of floods, droughts and increasingly turbulent weather. It is now widely recognized that travelism accounts for some 5% of global carbon emissions and this is growing rapidly with aviation the leading and most rapidly growing contributor.

The United Nations Environmental Program, notes that air passenger travel will grow by a factor of two or three times by 2050, exacerbating its affects on climate change. The responsive declarations of the industry are encouraging. The World Tourism and Travel Council has set a goal of a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2035 over 2005 levels and the International Air Transport Association has committed to a mid-term goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 with reduction of emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2050. However, the industry has yet to agree on a market-based mechanism that would ensure achievement of its objectives. Nor is it clear that the kind of transparent performance based measurement increasingly used in other sectors has really been embraced by yours. The more readily and the faster you move – the more leverage you will have when the inevitable and essential regulations are implemented.

Special benefits

Travelism also has provided some special benefits in our modern world. It has spawned a kind of universal culture of understanding, which is experienced largely by the rapidly growing minority of those who travel internationally. This culture consists of international conference centers, hotels, airports and related services which are much the same everywhere existing side by side with the local cultures in which most people live. An increasing number of people live both in the local and universal cultures and are often affected by the tensions between the two. The major social benefits of travelism are that it helps people to understand and relate positively to other cultures, reducing the prospects of the misunderstandings and tensions that can lead to conflict.

We are seeing this on a massive scale today in the relationship between Islam and western cultures. The United Arab Emirates deserves our appreciation and respect for its leadership in bridging this divide which can threaten peace and international cooperation. It has become a world leader, too, in the development and application of clean technologies and renewable energy for which Masdar has become a renowned center. Abu Dhabi is now an increasingly popular destination as one of the principal sponsors, hosts and organizers of important and influential initiatives and events, of which this is an example. Its development of a world class airline, Etihad, has facilitated this. As has the emergence of the other great global airlines – Emirates and Qatar – and long range technology, that has made this region the great new travel hub in our geographically shrinking global community.

Another travelism benefit relates to the Earth’s natural capital – its biological diversity, the services that nature provides on which so much of our life and wellbeing depends, the eco systems – mountains, forests, islands, waters and coastal areas which provide some of the most attractive venues for tourism are nature’s gift to humankind which it is in our interest and responsibilities to protect.

Range of Opportunities

Travelism also provides an immense range of opportunities for economic development and relief from poverty in some of the most disadvantaged areas. Agenda 21 for travel and tourism prepared in response to 1992 Earth Summit and more recently the very detailed report by the United Nations Environment Program on “The green economy, pathway to sustainable development and poverty irradiation eradication” define the many ways in which green tourism is essential to the development of the green economy. Tourism creates jobs, opportunities for local entrepreneurship, small and medium sized business and economic development in virtually every community. There is no other industry that can have such a universal impact on economic development and the escape from poverty.

The greening of tourism must be much more than applying a green veneer over underlining activities which are far from green. The greening must occur at every level of the travelism system. It has to be the heart and core of the industry which must take the lead in this. But it must be supported in and incentivized by much more enlightened and effective government policies and practices. This means that the green growth lobby must become much more active and influential than those who lobby for less restrictive measures.

Specialized tourism is developing rapidly – adventure tours, tours to exotic destinations like the Arctic and Antarctic, cultural, educational and various specialized tours will continue to increase as they become more and more attractive and affordable to more people. Many of these specialized tours are by ship and this segment of market will continue to grow rapidly. Some ships are becoming destinations in themselves, small floating cities of 10,000 people and even permanent homes. These forays into sensitive corners of our planet will continue to respond to the innovation and opportunities which characterize the industry. And as such, they must also be at the forefront of its environmental and climate stewardship.

Those ecosystems which provide the habitat of most of the world’s species of wild life are particularly valuable as tourist destinations. In Africa, where I have spent a great deal of time, these habitats are being desecrated. Their degradation and demise of the species which depend on them would be a grave loss not only to the tourist industry but to all of humanity and an ominous portend for our own future. You have a primary interest in their preservation.

Travelism thrives on peace and sustainability and it is an essential contributor to it. Tourism which is such an important contributor to the economies of most countries provides them with a strong incentive to maintain internal security and protect the human rights of their people. The very conditions so necessary to the health of their tourist industry also helps to establish and maintain social stability and well being and provide expanding opportunities for their people.

I spend much of my time these days in China with which I have had a long relationship. After a century of internal turbulence and conflict, China has again emerged as one of the world’s great nations with an immense and growing impact on its future. No nation has a greater variety and diversity of tourist destinations from the habitats of pandas to its vast heritage of historic, cultural and national wonders. The Chinese are great tourists within their own countries. Its domestic market is today twice as big as all of the international travel in the world. However Chinese international travel – where they are poised to become the leading global player - is less than 10% of its total travel.
 
Tourism in China
 
There are few destinations in the world that do not receive Chinese visitors. Yet tourism in China is still at its early stages and there are immense opportunities for both tourism in China and by the Chinese travelling internationally.

As you will know, in the early stages of China’s remarkable economic growth, China like the more traditional developed countries gave little priority to the environment. It has paid a heavy price for this with air and water pollution and its effects on human health, undermining many of the advantages of their economic growth while now contributing more than any other country to climate change. In its response to these issues, China has become one of the most environmentally aware and responsive nations on Earth instituting, for example, emission controls greater than those of the United States and Europe. Yet these are to quite an extent offset by its continuing rapid growth.

The Chinese are fully committed to developing a green economy. China is planning to develop 500 new cities each with a population of one million or more people, all to be green cities. The greening of its economy is now a top priority and this will clearly contribute to its attractiveness for tourism. No country has greater potential for leadership in green tourism than China and this will continue to open up unprecedented opportunities for the greening of the industry.

As I come to the end of my remarks I want to return to my personal experience with travelism and the environment which have so been integral to and my own life. It is out of these experiences that I have become so firmly committed to the systemic relationship between the environment and tourism which makes this meeting and this Award so especially meaningful to me. I want to express my profound gratitude for this and for the opportunity of sharing with you my thoughts on the importance and indeed the urgency of making the transition to green travelism.