Climate change – coming to a land near you soon…

Droughts, floods and hurricanes may sound like the stuff of disaster films, but it could be the future for some of our favourite tourist destinations if climate change and global warming has its way.

From wildlife safari spots in Africa to idyllic tropical beaches in Asia, it’s developing countries that are amongst the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming, and the most powerless to do anything about it. And the irony is that these are not the countries responsible for pouring carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Accelerated global warming is largely caused by the economic activities of rich, industrialised countries – those that are home to the very tourists who are blowing more carbon emissions on flights across the globe.

Although it’s difficult to link global warming to specific weather events, many scientists argue that the rise in temperatures will trigger glacial retreat, Arctic shrinkage, rising sea levels and rainfall changes that in turn bring flooding and drought.

Many of the problems developing countries already face will get much worse. In Africa, for example, there are signs that countries are already suffering. Arid regions are becoming drier, while rainier areas are getting wetter. In 2001, Kenya experienced its worst drought in 60 years, affecting more than four million people. On Senegal’s south coast, land at Rufisque* is being lost to rising sea levels. Natural landmarks could change forever; the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, could disappear completely over the next few decades, and melting glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda have shrunk by 75% since the 1990s**. And, to top it all, higher annual temperatures have been linked to malaria expanding into Tanzania’s Usamabara Mountains – which is bad news for travellers and locals alike.

For many countries in Africa where tourism is an important part of the economy, it’s going to be a tough job in the future to market destinations where travellers risk facing drought or food shortages first hand, or encountering floods that will prevent them getting where they want to go – or, worse still, claiming their lives. Many famous destinations could be irreversibly changed: Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is one of the best places in the world to go on safari because of its wide variety of wildlife – but higher temperatures in the future could damage and change the habitat, forcing species to migrate away from the park and destroying its tourism potential.

Only a massive global effort will slow down global warming and safeguard the future of some of the world’s most amazing destinations, and already some impact is unavoidable. But this paints a dismal picture, and there are at least ways we can help to mitigate the impact of climate change. One strategy is disaster planning, aiming to reduce the risk of damage and casualties from extreme weather events, for example – and another is the development of agricultural techniques that can cope with erratic climates. For responsible travellers, making a contribution to organisations working in these fields, along with carbon offsetting for every trip they make, can mean travelling with a much clearer conscience.
References
(I don’t know whether you would want to publish these references with the article, but I wanted to provide them in case, and for your reference)

*Dennis, K., I. Niang-Diop, and R. Nicholls. 1995. Sea level rise and Senegal: potential impacts and consequences. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue 14: 243-261.
**Kaser, G., 1999. A review of modern fluctuations of tropical glaciers. Global and Planetary Change, 22: 93-103. IPCC, 2001b. Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II, MacCarthy, J.J. et al., eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

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