Hub Bern: Interview
Tourism regions are both victims and drivers of climate change
The Hub Bern’s portfolio currently consists of 15 projects which are carried out in close collaboration with the Canton of Bern. The pillar of the ongoing activities is to address some of Switzerland's most important environmental challenges.
Research Scientist and Deputy Head of the Hub Bern, joined the Wyss Academy in May 2021
Given all the regional challenges and current goals of the Hub Bern, why is it important to develop climate neutral tourism projects?
Tourism is one of the contributors to climate change. We know that it is responsible for about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. By far, the most important contribution is made by the arrival and departure of guests, accounting for around fifty percent of tourism emissions. Today, we fly more than ever before: despite a massive impact on global warming, air travel increased steadily in the years before the covid-19 crisis. The reduction in flying caused by the pandemic was only temporary, and it is expected that the share of air traffic in global CO2 emissions will continue to increase in the future. Most of the costs caused by these emissions are paid by the general public and not by the polluters.
In some regions of Switzerland, tourism is by far the most important economic sector. As a host country, that also attracts guests from overseas, Switzerland has a special responsibility for climate protection. Moreover, the Swiss themselves play an important role in outgoing tourism: we are absolute frequent flyers. Through the development of attractive climate-neutral tourism offers and new forms of work, it is to be hoped that more Swiss people will decide to spend their holidays at home and discover the diversity within their country.
Why did the Wyss Academy choose the famous Jungfrau region for a pilot project about climate neutrality?
The regional Bernese conference Oberland East set itself the goal of becoming a CO2-neutral tourism region in its 2019 development strategy. This was a great opportunity for the Wyss Academy, together with the Canton of Bern and the University of Bern, to collaborate and support this challenging process. It is also very motivating that one of the leading tourism regions in Switzerland has the will and the drive to tackle the challenge of decarbonization. We are now supporting our local partners with a broad visioning and engagement process, the financing of a regional climate coach and the implementation of incubator projects. In a second step, useful learnings will be compiled for other regions. With its global standing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jungfrau region seeks to set a good example and contribute significantly to the transformation process on behalf of sustainable tourism.
What are the most specific challenges in mountain tourism compared to other tourism?
Mountainous areas, such as Switzerland, are disproportionately affected by climate change. The consequences could be clearly felt this winter. We have less snow, or snow only in higher regions, and the snowfall period is shorter. In particular, the ski resorts at lower altitudes are affected because they can no longer provide their service throughout the usual ski season. This means that new offers must be created to guarantee the utilization of the infrastructure. Besides, we also have problems with extreme weather events, such as heat waves or heavy rainfall, and thus natural hazards. Permafrost is also melting, which endangers infrastructure and communities due to rockfall, landslides and mudslides.
How do you envision a CO2 neutral tourism destination in Switzerland?
At the Wyss Academy, we think that the tourism of the future should be more sustainable and have less impact on ecosystems. Tourism needs to slow down and deglobalize. Travelling, also internationally, will always remain an important human need, so it must be possible in the future. However, all of us need to think about how often, how long, how and where we travel as tourists. On the other hand, tourism destinations and other stakeholders need to think about what kind of activities they want to offer and who they want to attract. One option could be to focus more on guests from Switzerland and mainland Europe instead of addressing markets overseas. New, climate-friendly business models have to be developed and tested. Of course, there is the economic argument that we need to have the same number of guests from abroad, or even more, because we have the infrastructure running. But we also observe a strong feeling within the tourism sector and among guests that things must change.
There should be a reliable measurement of the greenhouse gases emitted for all activities, considering the entire journey of a tourist. On this basis, climate strategies should be elaborated, with concrete and efficient reduction measures to achieve the net-zero target by 2050. Locations such as Davos and Arosa are taking part in a pilot project about climate neutral destinations. Hopefully their methodology to measure the total amount of emissions caused by tourists can become the new standard. Last but not least, we think that political regulations are needed for a broad and rapid transformation, which is crucial due to the urgency of the climate crisis.
What partnerships within the economy, civil society, and governmental organizations are necessary to reach these goals?
Tourism as a cross-sector industry is dependent on other sectors. Therefore, it is affected by their specific regulations, such as those from the mobility, housing or energy sectors. There must be strong coordination between different sectors on all levels. All stakeholders on the destination level need to be informed and onboarded. Together, they need to develop a common vision of what they want to offer to their guests and implement the corresponding measures in an effective and coordinated way. The demand side also needs to be sensitized to be able to make responsible decisions. And of course, the political sector must create a conducive legal framework for transition. This can be done, for example, by expanding financial and technical support programs and defining clear targets and standards.