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The first city in the word to measure the CO2 emissions of its tourists is in Spain

Valencia has opened its city up to a number of cycling and pedestrianisation projects
Valencia has opened its city up to a number of cycling and pedestrianisation projects Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Shannon McDonagh
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This popular Spanish holiday destination wants to better understand the environmental impact of its tourism industry.


Valencia, Spain’s third biggest city, is taking action to reduce the carbon footprint left by its 2 million annual visitors.

The city commissioned a report which found that tourists account for 1.3 million tons of carbon emissions. It is expected that this will set a valuable precedent globally in providing a certified reference for future projects of its kind.

Flights are the main cause of carbon emissions

The report, a collaboration between VisitValencia and Global Omnium, splits the sources of tourism-related greenhouse gas emissions into ten categories. It includes transport to and from the city, accommodation, popular restaurants, leisure premises, waste treatment, water management or the infrastructures necessary to support an influx of people.

Interestingly, 81 per cent all emissions came from people travelling into the city via aeroplanes and cars. Once in the city, transport only accounted for less than 1 per cent. This could be because Valencia has embraced walking and cycling in their urban planning. In 2019 it had successfully pedestrianised 10 of its plazas, with another 7 in the pipeline. The city also has 150 kilometres of cycle paths and 40 priority cycle lanes.

Valencia’s cleaner future

Valencia admits they have a long way to go to create less of an environmental impact as a growing tourist destination. They are aiming for carbon neutral tourism by 2025, including improving its natural areas - Valencia already has two million square metres of gardens, such as the Turia Riverside park.

There are also aspirations for the city to create an electric transport system. Some studies suggest that although mountainous regions do wonders for the biodiversity of much of Europe they are subject to a level of “energy poverty” that can hinder progress like this.

Understanding tourism’s impact on the environment

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) believes that emissions from tourism transport are expected to account for 5.3 per cent of all man-made CO2 by 2030. It’s clear the substantial contributions travel makes to GDP on a global level need to reckon with this.

Their solution? Moving to a ‘high ambition’ scenario, where each country works to go beyond the sustainability targets set for them concerning transportation and the consumption of goods and services.

Similarly, National Geographic identifies “three pillars of sustainable tourism” that are essential to making this work for everyone: employing environmentally friendly practices, protecting cultural and natural heritage, and providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities.

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