As a signatory and launch partner of the historic Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism at COP26, Intrepid Travel co-founder Darrell Wade explains why this moment matters.
Greta is right: the time for “blah blah blah” is over. The climate crisis is without doubt the issue of our times, and the travel industry, which is responsible for an estimated 8 per cent of global emissions, should be taking its contribution to this crisis very seriously.
For long too long there has been too much talk and too much rhetoric when it comes to climate action—whether that’s in the travel industry or beyond. There has been action on a variety of fronts, sure. But while offsetting, tree planting, carbon credits and other such solutions have their place, they’re ultimately not going to cut it. What the world needs is actual carbon reduction. Fast. And at scale.
As an industry we need more measurable action, and we need to be able to hold organizations who claim to be taking climate action to account. We need decarbonization on a massive scale: less greenwashing, more green-doing.
Sustainable travel advocates and industry insiders Jeremy Smith and Alex Narracott had the right idea when they founded Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency back in 2019. That incredible movement, which was run by volunteers, resulted in close to 400 travel organizations signing up to commit to climate action. It was clear that there was real appetite for change from small to medium sized companies all around the world.
Travel companies have to take action. And show us you mean it: sign this Declaration, and prove you’re willing to put in the work.
But if we’re looking to decarbonize as an industry, we need to get the big carbon emitters (think airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines) on board. And we need them to remain on board for the long haul.
That’s why the announcement of the Glasgow Declaration: A Commitment to a Decade of Tourism Climate Action at COP26 this week is so important. This industry-changing Declaration is an evolution of Jeremy and Alex’s Tourism Declares work (and the work of many other brilliant and committed individuals), except now it has the backing of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), among others.
The Declaration’s goals are clearly defined, and we will be able to measure and track signatories’ progress against their pledges. That framework and accountability is important: this is about action, not talk.
I have this week signed the Glasgow Declaration as Vice Chair of World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)—a role I have held for the past year. Intrepid Travel, the company I co-founded 30 years ago, is also a signatory. The Declaration has two primary goals: the first is to commit signatories to reduce carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, and the second is to commit them to becoming net zero by 2050. And beneath that, there are a number of other clear commitments, like releasing a climate plan within the first 12 months of signing as a way to validate your method towards decarbonization.
The second initiative to be unveiled at COP26 is the ‘Roadmap to 2050’, which has been prepared in conjunction with WTTC members and Accenture. The roadmap is an initiative by the WTTC, and it takes a sector-specific approach to reaching net zero for 2050. There are separate work streams for aviation, hotels, cruise, tour operators and destinations. This work is important, because when an organization comes to us and says: “Sorry, that can’t be done”, we can show them the roadmap and say: “Yes it can, and here’s how.”
On top of that, Intrepid’s very own Environmental Impact Specialist, Susanne Etti, in partnership with Tourism Declares, has authored an open-source Carbon Measurement Blueprint for Tour Operators. It’s designed to help other tour operators begin to measure their carbon emissions because if they can measure, they can begin to reduce.
It’s on us—travelers and travel organizations alike—to turn this climate moment into a climate movement. The decisions we make matter.
The inconvenient truth, though, is that the travel industry is way behind where it needs to be, and there is no guarantee that we will be able to get our house in order and aligned with Paris obligations and a 1.5 degree world. It’s true that some industries—like aviation and shipping—are harder to decarbonize than others, but one way or another the world will and must decarbonize, or we have no future at all.
I can’t say this plainly enough, but when it comes to the climate—whether the travel industry or any other industry—the time for talking is over. We must act now, we must act together, and we must work together if we’re going to have a hope in hell of pulling this off. Travel companies have to take action. And show us you mean it: sign this Declaration, and prove you’re willing to put in the work.
Now this is all obviously very heavy and very serious stuff. But for me, and I think for all of us at Intrepid Travel, and certainly for my co-founder Geoff, this duty of care we feel towards this magnificent planet and all of the creatures on it is a direct result of the many experiences we’ve been lucky enough to have all over it. We owe it to one another, and to future generations, to secure a truly sustainable future. And for individual travelers who care about this issue—I know there are a lot of you—you can now choose to use the services of more than 300 companies that have signed the Glasgow Declaration.
I’m moving into the final days of COP26 and beyond with a sense of cautious optimism. I think humans are capable of pretty incredible things when backed into a corner (even if it’s a corner of their own making), but it’s going to take all of us to get this right. It’s on us—travelers and travel organizations alike—to turn this climate moment into a climate movement. The decisions we make matter. And what we do next is going to matter for a very long time to come.
You can view all of the Glasgow Declaration signatories and find out more at One Planet Network.
An Intrepid Intrepid co-founder, Darrell Wade was the company’s CEO for more than 20 years, and is now the Group's Chairman. From day one, he’s spearheaded Intrepid’s journey to becoming a leader in sustainable experience-rich travel.