As the world recovers from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding a more sustainable tourism sector remains a shared responsibility of tourism firms and destinations. Amid mounting evidence of severe climate change, points that the window of opportunity to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and avoid a climate disaster is rapidly narrowing. Atmospheric temperatures have already increased by about 1⁰ Celsius from preindustrial levels, and keeping that increase to less than 1.5⁰ through 2050 will require intense efforts by the public and private sectors. At the COP26 conference in November 2021, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and their partners issued the Glasgow Declaration for Tourism and Climate, which calls on all tourism stakeholders to demonstrate a shared commitment to mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by integrating climate action into the core of tourism business models and management tools.
Brazil’s ecotourism industry relies on landscapes with extraordinary biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems that provide food and shelter for native species. One of Brazil’s key ecotourism centers is Bonito, a fantastic destination in Mato Grosso do Sul that rests atop the Guarani Aquifer, the second largest source of freshwater on earth.
Bonito’s efforts to achieve carbon-neutral certification are based on over two decades of implementing sustainable tourism management practices. As early as 1995, Bonito created a Tourism Voucher system that is designed to control the number of tourists per attraction based on a scientific reference point for tourist capacity, and Bonito has since emerged as one of the most lauded ecotourism destinations in the country.
After Bonito received the WTN Global Responsible Tourism Award in 2013 (London), government authorities launched a public-private destination governance body – FUNDTUR, which plays a key role in promoting sustainable tourism development best practices for Bonito.
The carbon neutral certification process led by Green Initiative, was initiated with the signing of the Glasgow Declaration by FUNDTUR, in coordination with the Bonito municipal government and the state secretariats for the environment, tourism, and economic development.
The carbon-neutral certification cycle requires an accurate assessment of the destination’s carbon footprint. This footprint establishes the baseline for reducing Bonito’s carbon emissions, which will need to fall by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, in accordance with the guidelines of the Paris Agreement. The certification process also includes an assessment of the GHG capture and storage capacity of local forests, which include eight of Bonito’s main ecotourism attractions spread over 5,000 hectares.
According to the carbon-footprint assessment, the main GHG emission sources are fuel consumption by vehicles (52,36% of total emissions), followed by the decomposition of solid waste (22,64%). The mitigation plan will focus first on solid-waste management (including food waste), reducing methane emissions at landfills by channeling organic waste to appropriate sites through governmental and community programs.
In addition to reducing GHG emissions, the proper treatment of organic waste can provide opportunities to produce valuable products such as biochar, compost, biogas, and organic fertilizers. Local farmers can use organic fertilizers as a substitute for nitrogen-based fertilizers, further slashing GHG emissions from agriculture while complementing ecosystem restoration and reforestation projects currently underway.
Reducing the carbon footprint of cars, trucks, and motorcycles will be vital to achieve Bonito’s climate targets. Vehicle emissions pose an especially complex challenge, and emissions reduction will require sustained investments in electric mobility.
By developing the capacity to measure and monitor its climate performance, Bonito is raising the bar in climate action for ecotourism destinations world-wide, leading the way to new destination management practices, that should mainstream climate action as a significantly relevant aspect for long-term prosperity for any destination.
This article for Transforming One Planet Vision into Action has been prepared by FUNDTUR, Mato Grosso do Sul Destination Management Organization. For more information visit Green Initiative website.
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