But there are loads of massive amazing fulfilling rays of hope if we choose to take them.
Where are we now?
In 1992 it looked as though we were on a trajectory that could save us all and help to make the world a better place. The post cold war Rio Earth Summit brought together 178 nations and 117 heads of state to address the issues of the environment and our relationship with it. The world seemed to recognise that we had a global problem that could only be solved globally but also with local commitment, participation and activity.
We recognised that if we carried on consuming at the then current level there would be little left for our succeeding generations- our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Something had to be done and the concept of sustainable development was adopted. Not a strange buzzword - just the simple principle of handing over to our next generation more than we had started with, were it business, culture, environment or society. This was to take the form of committments by all of us as individuals and consequently would have global effects.
Thus Agenda 21 was born as outreach “Global to Local” together with a number of other sustainability issues such as major companies producing ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ accounts to show how much they were using as well as how much they were making. By then international tourism was already at 500 million international travellers a year and looking as though it was burning through far too much precious resources. It was natural that there was to be an Agenda 21 section for tourism. The agreement was formalised at a side event of the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002. The Responsible Tourism Charter was born in Cape Town as a result of this event.
From then on tourism was on a sustainability path although still growing dramatically - by 2002 it had grown to 700 million international travellers per annum.
Nonetheless the major tourism players were still vaunting their ‘Green’ credentials. And in 2008 a major World Economic Forum event was held in Davos. ‘Climate Change and Tourism’ set out the challenges were tourism to increase dramatically and unsustainably - international passenger figures by then were nearing a billion a year.
Then, in 2009 the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) was held in Copenhagen, attended by 120 heads of state who pretty much achieved nothing except stasis. Actually, there was no real progress or agreement until COP21 in 2015.
During this time the world economy was being shaken by the banking crisis but nevertheless, tourism carried on growing.
The UN tourism sustainability process, indeed any form of global agreement had by now become suborned by organisations all over the world that wanted to make a quick buck out of tourism; and populist anti agreement individuals, organisations and governments seizing power. Do not underestimate the naysaying power of right wing anarchists, led by the voice of post war Russian emigre author Ayn Rand opposed to any order in today’s disordered world. Even now Agenda 21 is seen by them as a method of disempowering people rather than a globally agreed path to harmonious living.
So, post financial crisis, without any limits in place, tourism grew dramatically and the results were major tourist cities and prime natural sights experiencing massive destructive unsustainable overtourism.
Then ... STOP! A pandemic - Covid 19 - brought tourism numbers back to those of 1992.
That’s where we are now. So what are the massive rays of hope?
Well, there are massive and sustainable accommodation rays of hope that really fit the situation; there are enormous financial rays of hope that will further sustainability and will make lots of money; there are lots and lots of little green shoot opportunities that will provide sustainable incomes and make the world a better place ... all while the plutocrats squabble about what’s left of our destructive black industries.
It's all in the 2021 Sustainable Tourism Report due to be published on 5 November. Price £200
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Valere Tjolle is the travel and tourism insider. An entrepreneur, consultant, developer and journalist, he has been in at the beginning of almost every tourism development for the last sixty years. There is no one better placed to expose the seedy side of tourism nor its enormous opportunities to unite people across the globe.