Last week, I was part of the inaugural SUNx Malta 2020 Climate Friendly Travel and Tourism Think Tank with 35 global thought leaders from the travel and tourism sector. We met from 24th – 28th February in Qawra, Malta. Prior to the discussions of the think tank, I attended the meeting of the Board of SUNx Malta.
The Board of SUNx Malta
SUNx Malta was designed by Professor Geoffrey Lipman, the founder of the SUNx Programme, and Leslie Vella from the Malta Tourism Authority, and is a legacy to Maurice Strong. Maurice was a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, arguably the father of Sustainable Development and a true visionary on climate resilience. He had a passionate belief in the potential of Travel & Tourism to be a positive change agent for sustainability generally and for action in response to the Climate Crisis specifically. The SUNx Programme is advocating that all travel and tourism should be “Measured, Green, and 2050-proof”.
The First “Climate Friendly Travel” Sector Report was co-produced by SUNx Malta and the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and issued on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in September 2019. The 2020 Think Tank strongly endorsed the report and its key messages that:
- The Climate Crisis is eXistential.
- Climate Action is Urgent
- Climate & Carbon Ambitions Globally must increase
- Travel & Tourism Sector Climate Ambition must intensify
- Climate Friendly Travel can be a solution
- “We must Act Now. We must Act Fast.”
The Think Tank was organised in a way that different experts provided a discussion paper on a specific topic, which was then debated further in the group discussion. The first presentation on Day 1 was by Professor Ian Yeoman from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, who provided an analysis of four alternative future scenarios. Felix Dodds provided a review of historical and current thinking in the United Nations international policy arena, and Jeff Poole elaborated on the position of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The objective to establish a climate-friendly travel and tourism ambitions register in Malta was introduced by Professor Geoffrey Lipman. I am particularly interested in this aspect of SUNx Malta, as I will be acting as the Registrar.
In the evening, we had a lively discussion with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, who is the Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Transport & Tourism.
The second day took place in Gozo, at the Malta Institute of Tourism Studies in Qala. The day started with a presentation from Professor Susanne Becken from Griffith University in New Zealand. Her overriding message was that the climate crisis is existential, and that it requires even more urgent action by the entire global travel & tourism sector than has been generally recognized to date.
This was followed by an introduction to the potential of new technology in the 4th industrial revolution by Carlos Moreira from WISeKey International in Switzerland. He introduced the idea of an electronic identity for tourists and travelers, as a potential component of Sunx Malta.
The afternoon saw a heated debate about the role of aviation in climate mitigation and the opportunities to develop alternative aviation fuels. The discussion drifted into the positive and negative aspects of carbon offset, and further exchange of views was deferred to the following day.
The third day focused on big data, and how this can be used to promote climate-friendly travel, and we came back to the discussion about carbon offsets and afforestation.
These in-depth discussions resulted in the following key recommendations:
- All Stakeholders including Transport, Hospitality, Travel Services, and Infrastructure Providers must urgently start the transformation in 2020 to get onto the Paris 1.5o trajectory within the next 7-10 years. Governments, companies, communities and consumers must all engage and take action now.
- “Climate Friendly Travel” ~ measured: green: 2050 proof, must urgently become an imperative and the new norm.
- SUNx Malta agreed to support The European Green New Deal to promote the strong integration of Climate Friendly Travel, and we agreed with MEP Istvan Ujhelyi, Vice Chair of the Transport and Tourism Committee of the European Parliament, to convene a meeting in Brussels in the second quarter of 2020 to advance this.
- Improving the Research Base was underscored on both de-carbonisation and sector resilience. The initiative of the Universities of Surrey and Griffith to host a meeting of global experts to focus on this issue was warmly welcomed, with an agreement to collaborate going forward.
- Fully transforming all modes of transport was seen as pivotal. SUNx Malta’s call for a Moon-shot approach for aviation to further accelerate technological research and deployment was strongly supported. The highest importance must be given to the immediate distribution and rapid scaling up of currently available solutions to substantially reduce aviation fossil fuel reliance. There is a need for renewed commitment from the sector to radically increase financing of synthetic fuels. Current fuel suppliers were called on to apply full financial and corporate commitment to a solution, as well as to give the highest priority to synthetic aviation fuel production. In addition, states may wish to consider including international Aviation in their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions.
- In regard to Climate Financing generally, the Travel & Tourism sector must engage more actively with emerging Green Finance programs to be able to secure adequate funds for transformation. High quality offsetting of carbon impacts were seen as short-term transition instruments but totally inadequate as a long-term solution. In this context it was broadly believed that aviation action to date was falling behind the rapidly intensifying transformation need.
- Emerging innovations and technologies were reviewed, and it was felt that there are “low hanging fruits” that could be acted upon rapidly, in areas such as building refurbishment, cruise shipping, carbon reduction, waste to fuel transformation, developing consumer behaviour and digital opportunities.
- The SUNx Malta Climate Friendly Travel Registry of Ambitions was reviewed and endorsed, as was the initiative with WISeKey to develop an innovative consumer facing secure platform.
- Education of the Next Generation was underscored as a high priority with an emphasis on an accredited Graduate Diploma, from the Gozo Institute of Tourism Studies Campus. The SUNx Malta 100,000 STRONG Climate Friendly Travel Champions and as well as its school’s program – was seen as a very positive step forward to support company and community transformation.
After three days of intense discussions, the Think Tank had a lively meeting with Malta’s Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Hon. Julia Farrugia Portelli on Day 4. In the afternoon Minister Farrugia Portelli hosted a “town-hall meeting” with representatives from the Malta tourism and travel community.
We all agreed that the emerging collaborative framework between the Government of Malta and the Maltese travel & tourism supply chain is a pioneering approach, which could be replicated around the world, as States seek to fulfill their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions
The Initiative of the Government of Malta to become a global Centre of Climate Friendly Travel, and the leadership of Minister Farrugia Portelli was warmly welcomed.