Palau is the first country in the world to change its immigration policies so that they benefit the climate.
Visitors are now required to sign an environmental pledge upon arrival, which asks them to act in an ‘ecologically and culturally responsible way’.
Located in the Micronesia region in the western Pacific, Palau is regarded as one of the top marine tourism destinations in the world with its outstanding natural beauty and pristine seas.
The pledge is one of a number of incentives to make Palau the first carbon neutral tourist destination in the world.
A quarter (25 per cent) of Palau’s landmass lies less than ten metres above sea level, leaving the nation extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.
In 2019, more than 89,000 international visitors went to Palau. Tourism is one of the islands’ main sources of income and employment, but it’s also a key driver of climate change. The only way for international visitors to reach Palau is by air, and during their stay, they consume mainly imported food. Both of these activities require heavy use of fossil fuels and take income away from the local community.
Promoting local produce
A campaign to celebrate the nation’s gastronomic heritage will be launched to encourage hotels and tourism companies to serve locally sourced ingredients and dishes.
This initiative will not only help to reduce the carbon footprint, but by investing in domestic producers, more economic opportunities will be created for the local community.
Not to mention - guests can enjoy a more authentic experience of Palau’s culture.
“The rapid growth of an unsustainable tourist industry based on broken food systems has been a key driver of the climate crisis and ecosystem destruction,” says Paolo di Croce, general secretary of Slow Food International, an organisation that works with communities to promote sustainable food systems.
“The rapid growth of an unsustainable tourist industry based on broken food systems has been a key driver of the climate crisis and ecosystem destruction.”
“This project represents the antithesis, a solution that strives to strengthen and restore value to local food systems, reduce the cultural and environmental damage caused by food imports, and improve the livelihoods of food producers both in Palau and beyond,” di Croce adds.
Carbon management app for tourists
Authorities are also developing a first-of-its-kind carbon management app.
The new online platform will allow visitors to calculate and offset the carbon footprint of their trip, including both their travel to and activities within Palau.
The offset contributions from the app will be invested in blue carbon initiatives, such as mangrove restoration, or sustainable production activities in the region that help to reduce CO2 emissions.
It’s been estimated that tourists off-setting their carbon through this platform could potentially generate over €819,400 a year for the carbon reduction initiatives.
Leading the way to sustainability
Palau hopes to become an example for other tourist destinations in tackling climate change.
In recent years, the country has taken a range of measures to protect the environment and promote responsible tourism.
This includes establishing one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries, banning single-use plastics and styrofoam for tour operators, and protecting its marine environment through the adoption of the world’s strictest national suncream standard.
“If the current COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we must strengthen our nation’s resilience to external threats – the greatest of which is climate change,” says Kevin Mesebeluu, Director of the Palau Bureau of Tourism.
“Palau is blessed with some of the world’s most pristine natural resources, inherited through culture and tradition, and placed in our trust for the future generation. We must work to actively protect them, while also investing in our people.
“Palau embraces sustainable tourism as the only path forward in the new era of travel, and we believe that our destination can and must be carbon neutral.”