Tourism and Climate Change Adaptation


In 2015, United Nations member states adopted a set of 17 aspirational Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as part of their agenda for sustainable development. SDG 13 calls for us to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. Tourism can take action by responding to the effects caused by climate change, where it is both a victim and a vector.

Climate change refers to seasonal changes over a long period with respect to the growing accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. Tourism’s contribution to GHG is on the rise. 8% of global CO2 emissions is from tourism. In developing countries, tourists tend to have a higher carbon foot print than that of local populations. These countries are also the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change, and are dependent on tourism for development. Tourism should therefore shift focus from pro poor to pro sustainable adaptation. The 26th Inter-University seminar on sustainable tourism at Chuka University was a discussion on How tourism is responding to the SDG 13 to create sustainable adaptation.

Emerging Issues

Tourism adaptation to climate change

Climate adaptation in tourism is a response strategy that aims at solutions to make tourism more resilient to the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Tourism destinations, travelers and tourism businesses can have adaptation responses to climate change impacts in tourism. Some countries have climate change policies, to guide their response plans for climate change effects on different sectors of the economy, including agriculture and tourism.
The main adaptation types in tourism are;
• Behavioural Adaptation: This is associated with the tourist, they can decide activities they engage in, where and when they do so.
• Technical adaptation: Entails use of technology and being innovative in order to determine methods of coping with climate change and vulnerability.
• Business management adaptation: Involves techniques by tour operators, governments, industry associations, to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Mal adaptation Threats

Countries can customize adaptation measures for local destinations. However, not all adaptation plans are good. Some responses can result to mal adaptation. Mal adaptation are actions that:
1. Increase GHG
2. Burden most vulnerable disproportionately, and unfairly redistributing vulnerability
3. Incur high opportunity costs
4. Reduce incentives to adapt, e.g when other interests take over stated or intended climate change adaptation objectives
5. Set paths that limit the choices available to future generations

Mal adaptation is threat to climate change, that’s why tourism must insist on sustainable adaptation. Sustainable Adaptation emphasizes effectiveness of adaptation responses, by understanding possible wins and losses of each. If tourism does not adapt to climate change sustainably today, the cost of adaptation in future will affect productive capacity of the sector, even reduce jobs.

How tourism is affected by climate change

Many types of tourism are weather dependent and by extension climate dependent. Tourism sector is exposed to numerous direct and indirect impacts from climate change. There are destination impacts, which are technical issues relating to attractions and places.
For example;
1. Likelihood of sea level rise and more acidic oceans threatening coastal tourism infrastructure and natural attractions.
2. Possibility of rising temperatures is likely to shorten winter sport seasons and threaten the viability of some ski-resorts.
3. Risk of rising sea levels and extreme weather threatening coastal tourist infrastructure and erode and submerge beaches.
4. Threat of ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures degrading and destroy coral reefs
5. Prospects of rising temperatures reducing the viability of some winter sports destinations, affecting biodiversity and leading to more forest fires.
There can also be operational impacts of climate change, such as;
1. Reduced water availability leading to resource disputes with local industry and communities
2. Extreme weather events which can increase operational uncertainly particularly in poorer countries.
3. Insurability declining in areas exposed to extreme weather or sea level rise.
4. Effects to cut emissions may add costs to the industry particularly from transport emissions.

Types of tourism affected by climate change

Climate change impacts vary across different types of tourism. Snow sports are at obvious risk from rising temperatures with lower elevation resorts facing progressively less reliable snowfalls and shorten seasons. But other types of mountain tourism are also vulnerable as infrastructure is put at a risk from melting glaciers and thawing permafrost.
Outdoor activities can be affected by large scale forests dieback and more widespread wildfires triggered by sustained drought and higher temperatures. Longer fire seasons will reduce access to national parks rising temperatures will change lake habitats affecting fishing tourism.
As temperature rises the geographical dispersal of flora and fauna will change as species shift to conditions to which they are geographically isolated this may prove difficult or impossible for many iconic species. This directly affects wildlife tourism, and agritourism.

City visits account for a large percentage of the global tourism industry across the world. City infrastructure is exposed to a range of climate impacts including extreme heat events ,water shortages and flooding coastal cities meanwhile are at risk from sea-level rise. Urban tourism is therefore vulnerable to climate change.
Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events threaten beaches and coastal infrastructure enjoyed by hundreds of millions of tourists each year. Beaches are difficult to protect without reducing their attractiveness. The combination of rising water temperatures and increasing ocean acidification caused by the absorption of carbon dioxides spell a particular peril for reef ecosystems and the dive tourism they support. Warming sea temperatures will also change the distributions of fish and marine mammals.

How tour operators engage travelers in responding to SDG 13 in Kenya

Kenya is highly dependent on natural resources, and as a result, it is exposed to the effects of climate change. Therefore it is important for tour operators to engage tourists to combat climate change.
Tour operators have diverse options to support behavioral adaptation by tourists. For instance, they can prepare alternative tourist attractions in anticipation of times when other tourist attractions will be affected by extreme impacts of climate change, e.g. floods, landslides, or other disasters.
Tour operators can create a product that links with climate change adaptation, for example a low carbon tourism attraction. This can be possible by linking tourism with education and environmental conservation activities, or offering environmentally friendly modes of transport
Tour operators can also initiate other consumer led responses to climate change through campaigns e.g. information on influence of behavior, and abiding by sustainable tourism standards egg certification


Climate change is already a reality in tourism, and affects different types of tourism. As a result, businesses, travelers and destinations are responding. Climate action can be implemented in tourism sector through consumer led responses, business adaptation and technical adaptation options.

Outdoor Learning Activity

Learning tour to Mount Kenya Forest

Presentation by;


Let’s Go Travel Uniglobe

Students and Faculty from Chuka University

Universities in Attendance

Chuka University-Hosts
Kenyatta University


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