Today as we celebrate World Environment Day I will submit parliamentary questions requesting that the Davos Declaration on Climate Change and Tourism, which our government signed, be tabled before the Tourism Portfolio Committee in order to develop an action plan for addressing the effects of climate change on South African tourism.
This follows a visit I conducted to the St Lucia Wetlands in KwaZulu Natal – one of the most important estuarine systems on the south-east coast of Southern Africa – which revealed that eco-tourism is extremely sensitive to climate change in future. The visit also revealed that taps have run dry at St Lucia, hampering the town’s appeal as a tourist destination.
Studies have shown that global warming is projected to leave wetlands, such as St Lucia, vulnerable to the effects of climate change with reduced protection from extreme events, greater tidal reach, rising of the groundwater table near the coast, as well as salt water intrusion into coastal aquifers. This could dramatically damage estuarine ecosystems such as St Lucia, affecting local eco-tourism opportunities.
Scientists estimate that by 2050 catch reductions of up to 35% can be expected in estuarine fisheries. Global warming is also expected to result in a change in water availability, loss of biodiversity, reduced landscape appeal and increases in vector borne disease such as malaria and bilharzia – all of which will have devastating impacts on eco-tourism.
If South Africa does not address the challenges of climate change, small town economies dependant on eco-tourism such as St Lucia – supporting about 130 businesses - will experience major job losses from a loss of visitors.
In particular, government needs to focus on the Davos Declarations to:
• Implement concrete measures designed to mitigate climate change risks in the tourism value chain and to reduce risk to travellers, operators and infrastructure due to climate change;
• Promote investments in energy-efficient tourism programmes and use of renewable energy resources, with the aim of reducing the carbon footprint of the tourism sector;
• Integrate tourism in the formulation and implementation of regional, national and local level adaptation and mitigation strategies and implementation plans;
• Strive to conserve biodiversity, natural ecosystems and landscapes in ways which strengthen resilience to climate change and ensure a long-term sustainable use of the environmental resource base of tourism;
• Seek to achieve increasingly carbon free environments by diminishing pollution through design, operations and market responsive mechanisms;
• Implement climate-focused product diversification, to reposition destinations and support systems, as well as to foster all-season supply and demand; and
• Raise awareness among customers and staff on climate change impacts and engage them in response processes.
We must start to act now to ensure the future of South Africa’s eco-tourism sector. This is not only an environmental issue. If we safeguard the environment and promote ecotourism, we can create jobs and grow the economy.
The NDP estimates that for every 12 tourist arrivals, South Africa creates one job in the tourism industry. We must do everything we can to promote tourism in South Africa as a means to create jobs for our people.