Tourism and Environmental Health in a Changing Climate

The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) researched a new framework, the Holistic Environmental Accounting for Tourism Destinations (HEAT-D) to help local governments and national planning bodies to measure the Invisible Burden. The Invisible Burden is defined in the report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of TourismThis research helps to measure the Invisible Burden in Tunisia, via funding from GIZ.

HEAT-D Framework was tested in Tunisia between July 2017-December 2018, primarily on the island of Djerba.

The report comes to the following conclusions:

  1. Without further monitoring at the destination level, tourism will play an increasingly energy and resource-intensive role that will not be accounted for in national planning and will leave local authorities without the resources to manage growth.
  2. Municipal leaders require data on the many unmonitored and unaccounted for impacts on local destinations to guide the development of more sustainable, efficient economies, in order to meet the Sustainable Development (SDG) Goals and lower GhG emissions in accord with the Paris Agreement.

As the impacts of climate change continue to escalate, governments and business have barely begun to deliberate on how the impacts of climate change will transform tourism-dependent countries and their communities. ISTI formulated a means to help industry and government measure, report, mitigate, and adapt in order to garner the substantial human and financial resources required to help local destinations decarbonize and deploy proven approaches to environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Tourism and Environmental Health in a Changing Climate: The ISTI Framework for Tourism Destinations

The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health undertook research on the HEAT-D Framework in Tunisia on Djerba Island and Tozeur in 2017 with the support of GIZ (the German government development cooperation agency), to test a set of measures for destination authorities to manage their GhG emissions and the unaccounted-for costs of tourism growth, including energy, solid waste, waste water, water utility services and local land-use.

In its upcoming journal article based on this research, the project is summarized this way;

The framework measures per tourist requirements and direct/indirect impacts on energy, water, and wastewater treatment, solid waste, land-use and biodiversity to determine if consistent monitoring of this data could guide local policy makers on the management of both tourism resource uses and climate change related impacts.

The HEAT-D Framework designed by Research Manager, Sofia Fotiadou, uncovered the indirect costs of tourism development and revealed to local authorities how to avoid growth without adequate recompense for supporting sustainable infrastructure in host countries. It also took an in-depth look at land-use changes and measures required to protect coastal tourism destinations from the impacts of climate change.

Local authorities can apply this framework to investigate the precise costs for managing tourism development at the municipal level.  The final report, linked here, demonstrated that tourism drove up energy usage, water demand, beachfront development, and waste generation at the expense of local needs. These findings ran contrary to national decision makers’ opinion that tourism was providing strong economic benefits while not seriously increasing municipal costs for the island, undermining resilience to sea level rise, or causing significant increases in GhG emissions per tourist for the country at large.

 The HEAT-D Framework is now being considered by agencies in a wide range of tourism destinations and the approach to this will be dictated by the following goals:

  • Reveal the indirect costs of tourism growth, and the investment required to protect environmental health and local population well-being
  • Measure municipal costs for servicing tourism and guide decision making on policies and infrastructure
  • Help to develop strategic mitigation and adaptation plans to protect tourism economies and local populations when climate impacts worsen
  • Trigger international funding, subsidies, and impact investment for sustainable infrastructure projects, such as solar energy and alternative waste treatment for tourism areas
  • Create a new category of research based on empirical data to drive global research cooperation on destination planning
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