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Australia Fears Jet Flight Guilt Could Hit Tourism

Environmental groups say jet travel is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide and jet-setting politicians are regularly castigated for the tonnes of pollution their travels produce.
by Lawrence Bartlett
Sydney (AFP) April 18, 2007
Australia is concerned that growing guilt over the impact of jet flights on global warming could hit the country's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry, officials said Wednesday.

With long-distance airline flights virtually the only way of reaching "Down Under" and climate change threatening major attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef, the government has launched a "Tourism Action Plan".

"Tourism is a 75 billion dollar (62.7 billion US) industry employing more than half a million Australians and is dependent upon a sustainable environment," Tourism Minister Fran Bailey said in a statement Wednesday.

"For example, the Great Barrier Reef employs 33,000 people and generates more than 5.8 billion for our nation," she said.

Scientists have warned the reef's famous corals could be killed by rising sea temperatures blamed on global warming, which is in turn blamed on greenhouse gases from burning fuels such as those used by airlines.

The tourism industry had been identified as one of the sectors most vulnerable to climate change and the action plan would develop adaptation strategies, Bailey said.

The move was welcomed by Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Matt Hingerty, but he told AFP the industry had been too slow to react to the threat to air travel.

"It's quite a hot topic in the European Union, driven by some Green politicians and taken up by mainstream people.

"There is a global movement saying in effect that travel by air is bad -- a global guilt industry.

"That's a significant threat to us because being a long-haul destination the only way you can get here, apart from a minute portion coming by sea, is by air -- and if people stop flying we're in trouble."

Environmental groups say jet travel is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide and jet-setting politicians are regularly castigated for the tonnes of pollution their travels produce.

Hingerty said travellers would increasingly demand the ability to offset the impact of their travel on the environment.

Virgin Blue was already offering an offset option, he said. "When you pay for your ticket, they add an extra dollar or so onto your airfare and use it to plant forests.

"Tourism is Australia's second largest export industry after coal, so this is an issue that is crucial to our nation's well-being.

"We need to understand what the impacts will be and plan for those impacts, but we also have to win the philosophical debate that says travel is not bad."

He described as "an absolute disaster" reports that award-winning British novelist Jeanette Winterson had turned down an invitation to this month's Sydney Writers Festival because of long-haul pollution concerns.

An additional challenge to Australia's tourism industry could come from visitors judging a country on its green record, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief Daniel Gschwind told the Australian Financial Review.

As one of the only two countries in the world to have refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, Australia could thus find itself shunned by eco-conscious travellers in the same way destinations run by repressive regimes are avoided for political reasons.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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