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Climate protection makes travel more expensive

Whether in a car, bus, train, plane or cruise ship, at a campsite, in a holiday home or in a hotel – anyone who travels emits emissions.

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Climate protection makes travel more expensive

Whether in a car, bus, train, plane or cruise ship, at a campsite, in a holiday home or in a hotel – anyone who travels emits emissions. You can try to limit your own CO₂ emissions, but you have to know exactly which means of transport and accommodation emits how much.

A difficult undertaking, because there is still no uniform standard for determining holiday-related greenhouse gases. The newly founded association KlimaLink now wants to change that. We spoke to the CEO, Swantje Lehners.

WORLD: You want to make the climate footprint of travel comparable, how is that supposed to work?

Swantje Lehners: That's right, KlimaLink wants to make all emissions available in a central data source for companies and travelers. Just as flight duration and travel price can be determined in a travel agency or online, the climate footprint of all travel components should also be automatically accessible via the booking system in the future.

WORLD: Does the necessary IT system already exist?

Lehners: No, but we will soon be publishing tenders for corresponding contracts with IT service providers and emission data suppliers. The first practical tests are to be carried out in the course of the coming year; The KlimaLink platform should then be available by 2024 at the latest.

WORLD: KlimaLink currently has 22 members, including industry associations from Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as a number of tour operators such as DER Touristik, FTI Group, Gebeco, Olimar Reisen and Studiosus. Why doesn't TUI, as the largest German player, take part in Klimalink?

Lehners: KlimaLink emerged from the “Climate Aware Travel” project by the Futouris sustainability initiative, which has been working on calculation bases for travel emissions for some time. TUI is a member of Futouris and thus involved in the KlimaLink project.

WORLD: Is KlimaLink primarily about comparability of emissions or also about compensating the carbon dioxide emissions of travelers with a financial CO₂ tax?

Lehners: Only what is measured can also be changed. The aim is therefore to create transparency. Travel offers should be comparable in terms of their climate impact. Otherwise, the proven principle applies: avoid, reduce, compensate - in this order.

WORLD: So far, German consumers have avoided sustainable travel offers, why do you think that is?

Lehners: I think that sustainable offers on the travel market are still too little recognizable for customers. If sustainable options are clearly highlighted online and travel agency employees are specifically sensitized and trained for the topic, then sustainable tour operators and mobility companies will also be booked more, I am sure.

WORLD: Isn't it naïve to believe that travelers make their vacation choices dependent on CO₂ emissions?

Lehners: We'll see, nobody has tried it on such a large scale. We believe that making it as easy as possible for travelers to choose the more sustainable travel option out of multiple travel options will make a difference. And that in turn requires the travel provider to be able to calculate the climate footprint and offer customers more sustainable alternatives, of which there are already quite a few.

WORLD: Can you name examples of climate-friendly mobility providers?

Lehners: Last year, the Federal Environment Agency published a comparison of different means of transport in terms of their climate impact - here, rail and bus are the most climate-friendly.

WORLD: There are only limited travel options by train and bus.

Lehners: Yes, that's right. For flight connections, for example, you can use the Atmosfair Airline Index, which compares airlines in terms of their climate efficiency. In the future, KlimaLink will greatly simplify the comparability of travel options. And finally, compensation is also a way to travel in a more climate-friendly way.

WORLD: Compensating then means that travel in the interest of climate protection will definitely be expensive?

Lehners: Yes, in most cases compensation is offered as an additional payment to the travel price. Individual travel companies compensate the trips offered themselves, so the additional costs are not directly visible, but of course they still have to be included in the price calculation.

WORLD: Specifically asked: A family of four flies to Mallorca for two weeks, it costs all-inclusive for two parents and two children 4000 euros. How much more would the family have to spend to fully compensate for the trip?

Lehners: Unfortunately, that cannot be answered at the moment. We are still working on the standard so that we can even calculate the emissions for the entire trip.

WORLD: And with whom should the travelers compensate?

Lehners: That ultimately lies in the decision of every tour operator and every traveler. However, if you want a specific name I would say Atmosfair and Myclimate. The two climate protection organizations are also founding members of KlimaLink and have specialized in CO₂ compensation. With the money they raise, they support climate protection projects such as the construction of solar, biogas and biomass plants as well as projects in the field of CO₂-neutral fuel development for aviation.

WORLD: Are CO₂ compensations also possible via Futouris?

Lehners: No, Futouris is not a climate protection organization, but a sustainability initiative. In other words, Futouris is concerned with making the travel industry more sustainable overall, for example by avoiding waste, offering sustainable food or increasing the participation of local communities in tourism.

WORLD: What does increased participation of local communities in tourism mean?

Lehners: An example: Futouris, the tour operator Gebeco and TUI together initiated and financed a project in Namibia that supports a local Khwe community in improving their living conditions through income from tourism. A program for imparting traditional knowledge to tour groups was developed together with the residents.

At the same time, the Khwe community receives support so that it can grow crops independently. A stable water supply was created for this a few months ago: A solar pump transports the water from a new borehole 50 meters deep into the water tank of the Khwe village. The residents were explained how the system works so that they can maintain it themselves.

WORLD: Are there comparable initiatives such as KlimaLink, Futouris and Atmosfair in other countries with people who love to travel, for example in France, Great Britain, Spain, the USA, China or in the Arab world?

Lehners: Yes, there are a few other organizations pursuing similar goals. We are also in contact with them in order to identify intersections. There are good approaches to sustainability in many countries.

WORLD: In your experience, where is the will to sustainability particularly strong – and where is it still underdeveloped?

Lehners: There is no general answer to that. The most important are the transnational initiatives and targets anyway, above all the 1.5 degree target in climate protection, towards which the international community has been working since the Paris climate conference in 2015.

WORLD: Can you name a few reasons why German travelers should set a good example when it comes to sustainable and CO₂-compensated travel?

Lehners: One reason is enough: the effects of climate change are already being felt here in Germany. Current examples are the drought this year and the flood disaster last year. We must act now to continue enjoying the beauty of our favorite travel destinations.

WORLD: The founder of the luxury empire LVMH, the Frenchman Bernard Arnault, sold his private jet after protests from climate protectionists, with which he often flew from Paris to Nice in the summer. However, the sale does not mean that Arnault is now flying scheduled flights, rather he wants to rent private jets for his trips in the future. Don't stories like this from the world of the upper ten thousand, which seem to have little interest in environmental protection, infuriate you?

Lehners: Well, someone has probably not quite understood what it's all about. Luckily there are more and more climate protectors and the next protest action will certainly not be long in coming. Ultimately, however, these are just individual examples; much more important are changes in broad sections of the population and entire sectors, as we are definitely experiencing at the moment. So instead of wasting my energy on anger, I prefer to invest it in taking concrete steps towards sustainable travel.

About the person: Swantje Lehners has been managing director of projects and cooperation at Futouris e.V. since 2015 and has been honorary chairwoman of the board of KlimaLink since October 2022. The 37-year-old previously studied tourism management and worked for the tour operator Thomas Cook.

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