The UN conference on climate change kicks off in Paris today, and hopes are high for a more committed response to the problem of rising temperatures and sea levels. More than any other sector, tourism needs to ancipate these changes and adapt to them before it's too late.
As the world's leaders come together in Paris for the first day of discussions at COP21, many are hopeful that significant progress is on the horizon for climate change. If successful, the pledges made and targets set at this meeting could set the tone for how we do business, how we consume and how we travel.
Like other industries, tourism has struggled to come to terms with climate change. Since the early 2000s, international conferences have demanded immediate engagement and companies have committed resources to finding cleaner ways of functioning.
The World Tourism Organisation in 2007 asked for an immediate and united response from the entire sector, prompting action from some of its biggest players.
Boeing, for example, now says it is channelling more funds into green technology research for its aircraft, whilst Hilton claims it is significantly decreasing energy consumption in its existing hotels and investing in greener hotels for the future.
But as the number of international tourists rises - it's predicted to reach one billion by the end of 2015 and 1.5 billion by 2030 - the sector is also, inevitably, growing. Higher demand means more flights and more hotel rooms which, even with concerted efforts to reduce emissions and find alternatives, is leading to ever-increasing emissions as a direct result of tourism.
Nous sommes tous COP21
In all likelihood, the targets set in Paris over the coming weeks will be one of the largest challenges that tourism has ever had to face. Many will call for a simple solution: reduced flight schedules for airlines, fewer new hotels and an overall halt to the industry's impressive growth. But why stunt a sector which brings with it economic stability for countries all over the world, including jobs, companies, export links and cultural exchanges?
Balancing continuing growth with climate targets will be a difficult game, demanding immediate sacrifices from the industry as a whole in order to reap the benefits later. Whether it's investing more money into finding a cleaner fuel for planes, creating hotels which can function on zero carbon emissions or providing subsidies for companies committed to climate change, the tourism industry - with the help of national governments - can only aim for 100% sustainability.