Category: Tourism

Japanese cherry blossoms make early appearance: Extreme weather to blame

Japanese cherry blossoms make early appearance: Extreme weather to blame

By Georgina Wade

The annual cherry blossom bloom in Japan signals the arrival of spring. Typically occurring in early April, the event brings flocks of tourist to the region looking to experience the floral embodiment of Japan’s most deep-rooted cultural and philosophical beliefs. But never has there been a widespread cherry blossom show put on in the fall – until now. Weathernews received more than 350 reports of early blossoms.

But, what is causing this premature fall bloom? According to the Hiroyuki Wada, an arborist with the Flower Association of Japan, cherry blossom buds develop during summer but usually don’t bloom until because of a plant hormone the leaves release to slow plant growth in preparation for the winter. However, Japan was hit by both Typhoon Jebi and Typhoon Trami in September, which carried powerful winds and salty seawater, forcing trees to shed leaves before the hormone could be released, and with the additional warm air from the South, the trees were ‘tricked’ to blossom.

Category 5 Typhoon Jebi was the strongest storm to hit Japan since 1993, killing 17 people with insured losses estimated at between 2.3 and 4.5 billion USD. A few weeks later, Typhoon Trami followed suit leaving dozens injured and hundreds of thousands of homes without power. Warm air brought about by the typhoons was quickly masked by cooler conditions during the storms’ aftermath, prompting a combination of changeable weather that mimicked spring.

Although it’s clear that this year’s storm season is to blame, the premature cherry blossoming trend has been ongoing for some time. For over 1,000 years, the flowering of Japan’s cherry trees has been chronicled in the city of Kyoto. But bloom dates have shifted radically earlier in recent decades, signalling that the region is warming.

Yasuyuki Ano, a professor of environmental sciences at Osaka Prefecture University, assembled a data set that compiles blossom-flowering dates in Kyoto starting from 800 A.D. Prior to 1850, flowering dates were fairly stable.

But from 1850 to present day, the flowering period has only surged forward at the rate of about one week per century. With warmer March temperatures typically signifying an earlier bloom, scientists believe the earlier bloom dates are directly linked with rising regional temperatures. Both Kyoto’s cherry tree flowering and temperature data suggest that its climate is the warmest it has been in at least a millennium.

The buds that opened now will not be blossoming again in coming spring. Despite this early blooming, experts do not believe this event will disrupt the timing or magnificence of the bloom next spring.

Cover photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash.
Historic sites face risk from rising seas

Historic sites face risk from rising seas

By Tim Radford

Venice has been at hazard from rising seas for years. But so now are almost all historic sites near Mediterranean coasts, a survey finds.

Some of the planet’s most historic sites could by 2100 face damage or outright destruction in a warming world. Scientists who surveyed 49 World Heritage Sites in the Mediterranean report that 47 of them are at some degree of risk from future sea level rise.

As ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere to warm the planet, so global sea levels creep ever higher. And this constant threat of attrition by ever-higher tides and storm surges poses an ever-higher risk to a suite of cities, sites and ruins declared by UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to be of global importance, and in need of careful preservation.

The locations most at risk include the city of Venice, the medieval city of Rhodes, the old city of Dubrovnik, and the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia.

The researchers considered the hazard of what is now a once-in-a-century storm surge occurring, as the seas rise by almost 1.5 metres by 2100. By then, they found, storm surges that now occur once a century could be happening several times every year.

“Many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history”

Increasingly, coastal flooding and erosion could damage, deface or completely obliterate landmarks that played a pivotal role in world history. All the sites have important intangible value as icons of civilisation; many of them are popular tourist destinations, and their disappearance could only mean huge economic losses as well.

Such studies are launched to alert governments, civic authorities and communities to the need for action. Venice, in particular, has been a subject of national and international concern for decades. The surprise in the latest research, in the journal Nature Communications, is that of the 49 sites investigated, 37 are vulnerable to storm surge, 42 to coastal erosion − and many of them to both.

“In the Mediterranean, the risk posed by storm surges, which are 100-year storm surges under today’s conditions, may increase by up to 50% on average, and that from coastal erosions by up to 13% − and all this by the end of the 21st century under high sea level rise,” said Lena Reimann of Kiel University in Germany, who led the study.

“Individual World Heritage Sites could even be affected much more, due to their exposed location.”

Low-lying coastal sites

The researchers started with a database of all the low-lying UNESCO coastal sites: they noted the distance of each site from the coast, whether the terrain was rocky or sandy, and the chance that a build-up of silts from the Nile, the Rhone or the Po rivers might offer protection. They took as their danger baseline a predicted 1.46 metre rise in the level of the Mediterranean by the century’s end.

A rise as high as this has a low probability, but cannot be ruled out. And since the stakes are high − a city like Venice cannot be relocated, and the engineering challenge of protecting its lagoon from flooding is huge − even a one-in-20 hazard is taken seriously.

Other research studies have warned that just a 50 centimetre rise in sea levels places vast tracts of European coastline at risk from storm surge − the dangerous combination of very high tide and very strong winds − and could impose colossal costs on cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.

Already at risk

The latest study warns that by the end of the century, only two of the 49 sites would be at risk from neither erosion nor flooding. And more than 90% of the sites identified are, the researchers say, already at risk under current conditions, “which stresses the urgency of adaptation in these locations.”

And, they say, action and adaptation should start now. There are plenty of other historic sites to think about.

“Cultural heritage not inscribed in the World Heritage list will receive much less attention and many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history as well,” they conclude.

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Morgan on Unsplash: Dubrovnik, Croatia, one of the many historic sites at risk from sea level rise.
‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

By Paul Brown

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani.

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Steve Evans/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Podcast with Samantha Bray from the Center for Responsible Travel: Tourism in the Caribbean

Podcast with Samantha Bray from the Center for Responsible Travel: Tourism in the Caribbean

By Will Bugler

The relationship between climate change, environmental degradation and tourism is a complicated one. On the one hand, tourism can be an environmental stressor, with tourists flocking to sometimes fragile environments and the sector accounting, by some estimates, for as much as 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, tourism is often one of the most important economic drivers of climate-vulnerable nations, bringing investment to regions that has helped them to increase their overall climate resilience.

Nowhere are these tensions more apparent than in the Caribbean. With 50 million visitors per year, it is the most tourism-dependent region on earth. At the same time, the island nations that make up the Caribbean archipelago are some of the most climate-vulnerable countries on Earth.

In this episode of the Adaptation Conversation, we speak with Samantha Bray, Managing Director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), which recently published a book series exploring the relationship between coastal and marine tourism and climate change in the Caribbean.

Find the books on the CREST website by clicking here.

Cover photo by Juan Rojas on Unsplash.
Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

Pack your waders, we’re going… golfing! How climate change is threatening UK sports

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new report by the UK-based Climate Coalition finds that Open Championship venues like the St Andrews Old Course could be under water by the end of the 21st century even with a small increase in sea level rise. The report, called Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK, finds that golf, football and cricket will face the most severe consequences. The Scottish skiing industry gets a very dark prediction as well, with the Climate Coalition saying it could collapse within the next 50 years.

“Climate change is already impacting our ability to play and watch the sports we love,” the Climate Coalition writes, and adds that extreme weather leads to declining participation and lost revenue.

The Open Championship, the UK’s only major professional golf tournament, is hosted on links courses including St Andrews, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale, Hoylake, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Muirfield, Sandwich, Turnberry, Portrush, and 2018 venue Carnoustie. A links is the oldest form of golf courses and originated in Scotland. The name comes from the Scots language, meaning rising ground or ridge, and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes. As such, all links are at grave risk.

In Montrose, one of the world’s oldest golf courses with over 450 years, the third tee had to be sacrificed in 2017 due to reinforcement measures to protect the first and second tees from coastal erosion. In 2016, research done by the University of Dundee showed that in the past 30 years the North Sea has crept 70 metres towards Montrose.

“In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Director of the Montrose Golf Links explains in the report “As the sea rises and the coast falls away, we’re left with nowhere to go. Climate change is often seen as tomorrow’s problem – but it’s already eating away at our course. In a perfect storm we could lose 5-10 metres over just a couple of days and that could happen at pretty much any point.”

Other sports suffer too. In football, grassroots clubs are feeling the most severe impacts with bad weather reducing their playing seasons and flooding pitches. Cricket is also struggling, Cardiff-based club Glamorgan alone has lost 1,300 hours of cricket due to extreme weather and rainfall since 2000. The risk to the sport is so great it is already struggling to be commercially viable as less and less people get involved in the sport.

Interestingly enough, the solutions showcased in the report focus mostly on renewable energy and sustainability. While those are undoubtedly extremely important, it is clear sports need to adapt to changing climate conditions and build resilience to slow onset and sudden extreme weather events. Otherwise, economic losses could become an existential threat to the UK sports industry.

Download the Climate Coalition report Game Changer: How climate change is impacting sports in the UK by clicking here.

Visit the Climate Coalition website.

Cover photo by Andrew Rice on Unsplash
Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

Climate change threatens Scotland’s historic sites

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A report released by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) identifies nearly a fifth of the almost 340 sites it oversees as being at very high risk of being badly damaged due to climate change. Another 70% of its sites are said to be at high risk in this first-of-its-kind study.

Climate and geological data from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and British Geological Survey were combined with HES’s own site surveys to create detailed climate risk assessments of each site. These show that historic site, often already fragile and exposed, are at risk from increased flooding, coastal erosion, heavier winter precipitation and drier summers. The report states:

“Water is the most destructive agent of decay. On a large scale, heavy and intense rainfall can directly lead to flooding in a short time frame, which has the potential to cause catastrophic damage to all elements of the historic environment within reach of these potential flood zones.”

The 28 sites with the highest risk, which include Fort George near Inverness and the 800-year-old Incholm Abbey on Incholm Island, are at an “unacceptable level of risk exposure” which would require immediate adaptation measures. Other sites which received a red warning, like Edinburgh Castle which is at very high risk of landslides and groundwater flooding, received an amber rating because they are under constant supervision by HES.

The study is part of ongoing efforts “to develop best practice and integrate climate change actions into [HES’s] operations.” The HES was tasked by The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme with quantifying heritage assets affected by climate change using GIS in order to create a climate change risk register for their properties.

The report could led to increased pressure on other conservation organisations like the National Trust to step up their research efforts and identify climate risks to their sites in order to protect them appropriately.

Download and read the full report on HES’s website:

Cover photo by Timo Newton-Syms: Incholm island and former Augustine abbey in the Firth of Forth, Scotland (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Climate change in the Alps: Threatening winter tourism and boosting summer tourism

Climate change in the Alps: Threatening winter tourism and boosting summer tourism

By Gracie Pearsall

The Alps are famous for their pristine slopes, which facilitate many popular winter sports, such as skiing. In fact, one third of every Euro that a tourist spends in Austria, can be traced back to tourism. However, climate change threatens the vitality of the mountainous terrain and the snow conditions that allow the snow sports to thrive. Yet, climate change also presents an economic opportunity because warmer conditions will make the Alps an appealing summer tourist destination.

Changing Conditions

Climate change will affect the Alps in two major ways: Temperature rise and altered precipitation patterns. Projections show the Alp’s mean temperature will increase at a rate much faster than the rest of Europe. The temperature in areas with elevation above 1500 meters will rise even more rapidly – likely increasing by 4.2° Celsius by the year 2100.

Warmer temperatures will reduce snow and glacier cover, increase run-off, and cause erosion. With warmer temperatures, the Alpine permafrost will melt, thus reducing slope stability and causing massive movements of rock and debris. Glacial lake outburst floods are severe flash floods that occur when a glacier, that is damming a lake, melts away. These floods will become more frequent as temperatures rise in the Alps.

Summer precipitation in the Alps will decrease, while winter precipitation increases. The increased winter precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow, and the number of snow-days/periods will significantly decrease. The increased winter rain will reduce snow cover and greatly increase the risk of run-off, erosion, and flooding. Conversely, the summers will become drier and warmer, exposing the Alps to risk from forest fires and drought.

Scientists expect extreme weather events, with heavy precipitation to become more frequent. These changes in precipitation, along with warmer temperatures, will completely alter the hydrometeorological conditions on which the tourism industry relies.

Effect on the industry

These climatic changes will have a particularly adverse effect on winter sports. The number of snow-reliable Alpine ski areas will likely decrease from 666 to 209 because of reduced snow cover and snowfall. Less snow and shorter seasons, along with the increased risk of natural disasters, such as landslides and avalanches, will detract from the Alp’s historic tourist appeal. Climate change will force ski areas to rely on artificial snowmaking, which will also contribute to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses.

The Mediterranean has long been the go-to summer getaway in Europe, but as the Mediterranean gets uncomfortably warm, many tourists will rush to the Alps. Projections show that summer tourism will increase in the high Alpine regions, lake regions, and low-lying city regions. Alpine summer sports, such as mountain biking, paragliding, hiking, and summer tobogganing, will become more popular under the improved climatic conditions. Although climate change will cause more frequent natural disasters and increase soil instability, the favorable conditions will counter these risks and actually draw summer tourists to the Alps.

Adaptation Plans

Currently, the main method for adapting the alpine tourism industry to climate change is a technological, short- term approach. The winter tourism sector is the one that mostly uses these technological adaptations. The adaptations include measures such as increasing the use of artificial snowmaking, moving facilities to higher altitudes, and slope development. While these measures will prolong the ski-areas’ profitability in the short term, these methods are unsustainable, and won’t compensate for the degradation of the Alpine slopes. These measures only increase the areas’ economic dependence on winter tourism, which will soon no longer be viable.

Instead, the Alps would be better off employing behavioral methods of adaptation with business and policy-based mechanisms, to encourage sustainable tourism. For example, businesses could form ski-conglomerates, diversify tourism products throughout the year, and market summer tourism over winter tourism. Low-lying ski resorts could begin planning to withdraw from ski-tourism, and move to less intensive winter activities such as snow shoeing. These low-lying resorts will be in the perfect area for summer tourism, therefore the resorts could pre-emptively create products and activities that will attract summer guests.

Increased summer tourism will put a strain on the infrastructure and buildings built for winter tourism, so the government could support sustainable development. For example, rather than building new accommodations for tourists, businesses could retrofit old buildings. This would prevent further environmental degradation and maintain the perception of the Alps as a historic, authentic destination. Resorts could also modify their ski-lifts and cable cars so that summer tourists can ride them to see the Alps’ picturesque landscapes.

Finally, the state could also support sustainable adaption by enacting climate-change mitigation legislation and offering relief in the case of climate-based economic losses. The state could also implement measures to incentivize sustainable behavior from tourists. For example, investing in cleaner, more efficient, and accessible transportation networks will give the Alps a competitive advantage over other popular summer destinations.

Cover photo by Brian Christner on Unsplash: Stechelberg in Switzerland.
The Maldives: Tensions between climate action and tourism

The Maldives: Tensions between climate action and tourism

By Gracie Pearsall

The Maldives are at the front lines of climate change. The nation is comprised of 1,200 coral islands grouped in archipelagos and atolls, and only sits about 2.5 meters above sea level. According to former president Mohamed Nasheed the Maldives are the third most at risk country to sea level rise. Facing a grave future from climate change, Nasheed created plans to make the Maldives carbon neutral by 2020 and urged other nations to follow suit. Nasheed’s successor, current president Abdulla Yameen, has taken a drastically different approach to addressing climate change. Yameen has traded in renewable energy and carbon neutrality, in favor of mass tourism. Yameen and his administration claim that growing the tourism industry would give their country the funds necessary to adapt to the changing climate.

A New Strategy

Unlike Nasheed, who famously sought to purchase Indian land so Maldivian people could relocate when the sea levels start to swallow the island, Yameen is determined for his people to remain in the Maldives. Now, the island nation is preparing for rising sea levels with geo-engineering projects to reclaim islands or even construct new islands. These projects are very expensive, so to fund them the government essentially lease out islands, which are then developed into mega-resorts to attract tourists. The money from these leases will also be used to relocate the residents of the leased island.

The islands are usually rented out to foreign investors, which could be companies or governments. In March of 2017, Saudi Arabia leased the Fafuu atoll for 10 billion USD – more than triple the Maldives’s GDP. For many people in the Maldives and around the globe, this deal raised eyebrows and many accused Yameen of selling the atoll. In response, the president issued a statement refuting claims he sold the atoll. Yameen emphasized that foreign-backed development is not out of the ordinary and is focused on delivering positive outcomes for Maldivians.


The Maldives are known for their natural beauty. Luxurious resorts, blue water, white sand, and vibrant reefs make the Maldives a popular destination for tourists looking to relax on the beach and “eco-tourists” hoping to see the pristine marine ecosystems. Yameen’s administration recognizes tourism’s lucrative potential and views it as a means to bring better living conditions to Maldivians as quickly as possible. Since the population is so dispersed throughout the archipelago, it is difficult for the government to provide services, such as water, education, and santitation to everyone. With money from tourism, the administration hopes to relocate and centralize the population to the larger islands so that all citizens can receive government services.

The Saudi’s plan for Fafuu could turn the island into a “Riviera-style super-resort with sea sports, six star hotels, high-end housing and several new airports”. With new developments, the administration hopes to increases tourism from 1.3 million visitors per year to seven million in the next 10 years. A booming tourism industry would increase more investors and provide the Maldives with the funds it needs to adapt to climate change. Additionally, the tourism industry will create thousands of new jobs. Furthermore, resorts could be beneficial for Maldivian reefs. According to Shiham Adam, director of the government’s Marine Research Centre, resorts can act as miniature marine reserves because they are required to protect at least 700m around the island

Conflicting interests

While the tourism scheme may seem like the Maldives’s saving grace, many Maldivians are wary of it. Locals fear they will be moved of their islands in favor of resorts. They are concerned the government will relocate them into apartments away from their island life. Environmentalists are concerned about the inevitable increase of carbon emissions as the Maldives develop their tourism industry. The thousands of extra flights to the Maldives will only further increase their emissions.

The administration accepts the reality that developing tourism and carbon-neutrality cannot co-exist, they are still committed to being a low-carbon country. They hope to invest in solar energy and reduce their emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The situation in the Maldives highlights the tension developing countries face between climate adaptation and development. The administration has made it clear that while climate change is a pressing issue, development is their priority. Yameen commented saying the Maldives, “should be afforded the ability to expand our economy to propel more and more Maldivians towards middle income status.”

Cover photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash.
Air pollution turns the Taj Mahal yellow

Air pollution turns the Taj Mahal yellow

By Caroline Fouvet

A unique UNESCO World Heritage site, the Taj Mahal is one of the most admired monuments and draws millions of tourists to India. In 2016, 6.2 million visitors enjoyed the architectural beauty of this mausoleum that was built in the 17th century as a tribute from the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The ivory marble gives the Taj Mahal its iconic look, but there are growing concerns that it may not remain as bright white in the future. Its façade is turning into a brown-yellow colour altering the monument’s most distinguishing feature and climate change might speed up this process.

Researchers are pointing to air pollution to explain this progressive change of colour. Airborne particulate matter, made of black carbon, light-absorbing brown carbon and dust, have a brown tint that discolours the Taj Mahal’s marble. Automobile fuels, brick making and burning residues that emanate from open stoves and farming seem to be responsible for the spread of these particles.

This is not a new problem as concerns regarding the mausoleum’s discolouration were already raised in the 1970s because of the pollutants emitted by a nearby oil refinery. After conducting one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of pollutants’ impact on a historical monument, the Government decided to undertake a project in 1998 to clean the air in the area surrounding the Taj Mahal. Despite these efforts, the pollutant levels kept increasing after a temporary drop in the early 2000s.

Air pollution has a reciprocal relationship with climate change since it fuels the phenomenon by increasing the amount of GHG gases and is compounded by warmer temperatures. It is a major societal issue given the health hazard it represents and it could be, in the Indian context, detrimental to tourism by affecting renowned monuments such as the Taj Mahal. But climate change can also worsen air pollution, which depends highly on weather patterns; with climate change, higher temperatures can worsen smog, increase instances of stagnant air, and worsen air quality.

In India, tourism represents almost 10% of the GDP (2016), which shows that preserving highly visited sites plays in favour of this sector and of the overall economic development. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj Mahal is located, the World Bank currently runs a tourism-focused project with an overarching development objective for communities living around tourist hubs. This reflects the connection of both aspects and shows that addressing air pollution issues would have environmental and economic benefits at the same time.

Using eco-toursim to adapt to climate change in the Philippines

Using eco-toursim to adapt to climate change in the Philippines

By Gracie Pearsall

Located at the juncture of the typhoon belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines experiences more than its fair share of natural disasters. These disasters are especially harsh on the residents of Albay, a province in the Bicol region. These residents live in the shadow of Mt. Mayon, the Philippines’ most active volcano, which erupts every seven to ten years. Moreover, this low-lying region regularly experiences flooding from storm surges, and the capital city, Legazpi, sits on a bay notorious for frequent cyclones. Recently, the residents have become keenly aware of the risks that climate change presents. Yet, in the face of such perils, Albay has turned to tourism as a seemingly unlikely path to resiliency and disaster-risk reduction.

Tourism in Albay relies on the region’s unique ecology and beautiful natural features. Tourists often hike through tropical forests and hills to see the perfectly conical Mt. Mayon.  Tourists also flock to swim with whale sharks in one of world’s largest pods of whale sharks, in this region. Thus, the region views sustainable practices and “green development” as investments in these attractions.

Resilience to climate change will protect the Albay environment from degradation, and ensure that tourism will remain a profitable sector. The tourism-based economic boom has alleviated poverty, encouraged further resilient development, and allowed the government to create a world-renowned disaster-risk reduction strategy.

Albay, is already at risk for sea-level rise that could flood homes and infrastructure. Climate change would bring more frequent, and more severe storms that could cause further flooding. The increased precipitation would also make the destructive lahars (strong mudflows of ash and debris) more common. Climate-induced ocean acidification, and coral bleaching events, also would threaten the food security of coastal residents. Moreover, warmer temperatures would also reduce the entire region’s agricultural productivity. These risks would compound the ever-present threats of typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

The effects of climate change will disrupt the lives of every Albayan, and discourage tourism. In 2006, Typhoon Durian hit Albay, causing Mt. Mayon to unleash devastating mudslides that resulted in massive destruction and deaths. However, the region quickly recovered by using tourism to drive reconstruction. The government built 320 km of roads that connected tourist destinations across Albay. The region needed the development of this infrastructure not only to meet the growing tourism demand, but also to provide jobs so locals could bounce back from the typhoon.

The increased revenue from tourism has helped many people escape from poverty. For example, fishermen who were once making 100 Philippine pesos (PHP) per day, now make 200PHP per hour in the tourism industry. Furthermore, investment in tourism is a more long-term recovery method, than relying solely on foreign and federal aid.

Revenue from tourism also allowed the Albay government to implement mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management measures. Former governor Joey Salceda developed an award winning “zero-casualty” strategy for disaster risk management. The strategy includes risk mapping, improving infrastructure, early warning systems, engineering responses, and evacuation plans that even incorporate the same roads built for “eco-tours.”

This disaster risk-reduction strategy is not only a government matter, but also a community-based one. Every household is involved in the process. Parents teach their children the village’s disaster plan, which includes a designated disaster meeting place.  Schools teach children survival skills through games, thus making the entire community aware of the risks, and how to respond to them.

Similarly, the Albay government is focused on bottom-up solutions to climate threats. The government and environmental advocates often host workshops, training Albay residents on how to adapt to the changing climate. For example, as overfishing and warmer oceans decrease the productivity of the nearby reefs, many Albayans could become food insecure. To minimize this risk, activists taught coastal communities how to farm organically, so that the farmers could sustain themselves if the waters became unfishable. The ability to farm also makes communities more self-sufficient if a natural disaster were to isolate those communities. Furthermore, with the influx of tourists looking to sample local cuisine, increased food production through farming would help Albay cope with the higher demand for food.

To mitigate its contributions to climate change, Albay has invested in renewable energy and become a hot-spot for solar and geothermal alternatives. The province contributes nearly 300 megawatts of geo-thermal energy to the national grid, and has plans to contribute 350 megawatts more. The provincial government has recently planned a large solar power plant in the capital, Legazpi.

The government also took steps to protect and expand the forest – a critical area of carbon sequestration. In the past seven years, forest cover has expanded by 88% in Albay. Furthermore, the government increased coastal mangrove cover from 700 hectares to 2,400 hectares, thereby creating a crucial buffer between land and sea.

The tourism industry has driven some of these conservation efforts because the natural beauty is what draws tourists to Albay. The government’s tourist office controls the flow of tourists to prevent degradations, by creating themed tourism “lanes.” The green “eco-tourism” and blue “eco-nautical” lanes bring tourists through the most beautiful natural sites, while bypassing ecologically sensitive areas. Local guides also promote hiking and public transport to minimize tourists’ emissions during their stay.

Albay has turned its climate risks into opportunities. The region has shown that sustainable tourism not only preserves the attractiveness of the region, but also helps the area become more resilient.  The region also markets itself as a climate-destination and hopes to act as a model for other Filipino provinces by creating an inter-region network dedicated to resiliency and disaster risk reduction.

Cover photo by Sir Mervs/Wikimedia (CC by 2.0): Mount Mayon seen from Camalig, Albay, Philippines.