Marker in the Sand for Hotels and CO2

This December we've been focusing on the theme of Carbon and the Paris Agreement, one year on. In this blog, Programme Manager of the International Tourism Partnership Nicolas Perin explores the role of hotels in meeting carbon targets. 

The 5th of June 2016 marked World Environment Day and the fourth anniversary of the launch of the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI); ITP’s universally recognised tool for measuring carbon in hotels. Beyond the success of the methodology having now reached more than 24,000 hotels worldwide, what can be said of the hotel industry’s impact on climate change? Hoteliers now have access to a plethora of innovations, guidance and information on how to manage their carbon emissions but little on how their efforts fit with the bigger picture. 

Decoupling emissions from growth

As United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres stressed in a preparatory meeting of the Business & Climate Summit (London, 28th – 29th June 2016) businesses played a key role in the success of the Paris Agreement last December. Companies are a cornerstone of climate action without which the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs, which represent each country’s official CO2 reduction commitment under UNFCCC) will fail to meet targets to limit global warming below 1.5˚C. This is because businesses hold the largest capability and resources for innovation and scale in delivering change.

How to account then for the global carbon footprint of businesses and their contribution to climate targets, and how can we identify ways to decouple emissions from economic growth? Most private sector initiatives launched since December’s climate deal are moving away from individual company approaches, to multi-industry and sector-based action. The following is a sample of the most ambitious and innovative movements that companies can embark on today.

The Science-Based Targets (SBT) initiative, led by CDP, the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and WWF gathers companies (160 to date) committing to set emission reduction targets in line with scientific recommendations to keep global warming below the threshold of 2˚C. By gathering case studies, tools and methods across different sectors, SBT helps companies assess the reductions they will need to achieve, factoring their own growth trajectory in the coming decades. The Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach (SDA) is one of the methods recommended to achieve science-based targets, helping specific sectors identify common solutions and pathways to do so.

We Mean Business is a coalition of companies and investors working on the transition to a low-carbon economy, and a platform gathering a set of initiatives businesses can commit to, such as setting an internal price on carbonusing 100% of electricity from renewable sources and improving climate change reporting.

Leading the hotel sector towards a low-carbon path

The hospitality sector has one of the largest growth trajectories for the coming decades, which makes its engagement on a decarbonisation path particularly important. This is why ITP and its member companies are looking at how to set industry targets on carbon emissions using science-based data. Following the SDA method, a first assessment of the hotel industry’s current and future aggregated footprint will enable each company to evaluate the extent of the reduction needed in the coming years, and the range of solutions to decouple emissions from development.

Among the breadth of technical solutions available to hoteliers worldwide, science-based approaches share a common principle: working on energy and carbon intensity metrics will not be enough to achieve the change agreed in the Paris agreement. No matter how efficient new builds and retrofits can become, their rapid development will create a critical mass of carbon emissions which has to be reduced using other channels (this study of forecasted impacts of hotel growth in China is a good example).

By creating a common methodology to measure hotel carbon emissions (HCMI) and enabling those emissions to be benchmarked among thousands of properties worldwide on its Hotel Footprinting Tool, ITP not only creates a level playing field for the industry, but also helps other sectors report more thoroughly on their travel emissions.

Collaboration is key

Finding the best innovative solutions will rely strongly on collaboration rather than on individual companies’ performance. Sectoral platforms and initiatives like ITP help businesses save time, money and duplication of effort by creating collaborative research and guidance.

Collaboration between public and private sectors will also be key to implementing climate deals: sharing open and transparent data on carbon, identifying economic incentives and designing cleaner energy production scenarios.

Developing cross-sector initiatives at destination level will also be a strong driver towards a low-carbon hotel industry. Investing in better infrastructures (energy production, water management facilities, waste treatment, food production, etc.) at local level creates long term benefits for businesses and communities, especially in vulnerable areas where hotels built today will face droughts, natural disasters and population density in the future. Cities coalitions such as C40 and the UNFCCC’s NAZCA are already active on that front and provide interesting case studies.

Last but not least, hotel companies should aim for better and more frequent communication with their investors whose interests are growing and who demand transparency, consistency and visibility from the companies in their portfolios. Making that dialogue happen has the potential to create a race to the top at sector level to foster low-carbon investment.

Last June's images of the flooded streets of Paris gave us a sadly ironic reminder of the effects of climate change targeted in the agreement signed there in December. Businesses who bury their heads in the sand on this issue will face tremendous risks, miss out on investment opportunities and sustainable innovations. And pulling your head out of the sand is always easier when that sand isn’t flooded.

Nicolas Perin

This blog was originally published on the International Tourism Partnership website