Flying hurts the planet but it’s vital for island tourism. Is there a greener way?
(The Guardian, 15 Dec 2023) Electric aviation and renewable energy among shifts needed for the Pacific to build a more sustainable tourist industry
One of the biggest challenges in weaning off fossil fuels – and one that is often forgotten – is aviation. But for Pacific Island countries that poses a major conundrum. Right now, it would be effectively impossible to get to the Pacific islands without burning kerosene.
Aviation connects families across the region and allows for essential travel, including for health and education. Flights also form the backbone of the growing and vital tourism industry. Tourism is now the biggest economic sector in the Pacific and it can bring many development benefits.
As highly vulnerable island states, the goal of ridding the region of fossil fuels is an important one. The need to urgently transition away from fossil fuels is now also firmly embedded in the global climate framework through this week’s agreement made at Cop28 in Dubai. In March, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and Solomon Islands – negotiated the “Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel Free Pacific”. The topic was back on the agenda at the Pacific Island Forum in the Cook Islands in November. But the realities – and the critical role of tourism in the region – make this task more complex.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were 1.8 million international arrivals by air and cruise ship to Pacific Island countries. Energy use and emissions associated with international flights and shipping are not formally accounted for, but they are likely to be huge. A great first step would be to actually measure them, and document the size of the challenge.