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Globetrotting tourists are leaving a giant carbon footprint on the Earth

It’s not just the getting there. Shopping, dining, hotel hopping all add to the tally.

11:00am, May 7, 2018

GLOBETROTTING  Global tourism, including air travel (commercial routes as of June 2009, shown), is responsible for about 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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Global tourism contributes about 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, researchers report May 7 in Nature Climate Change. That carbon footprint is about three times as large as tourism-related emissions estimated by previous studies.

The jump is largely because the new study doesn’t just tally up emissions from the traveling itself, like hopping a flight, going on a road trip or taking a cruise. It also looks at the impact of the goods and services that tourists enjoy, from food to shopping to hotel stays.

Who has the biggest carbon footprint? The United States topped the list, as both a top destination for tourists and a source of tourists. Other prosperous nations, such as Canada and Germany, also have a big footprint, and increasingly wealthy nations, such as China and Mexico, are catching up in this amazing race.

Take a look at global tourism by the numbers:

4.5 gigatons

The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that came from tourism in 2013.

2.7 percent

The share of the global total of emissions that comes just from Canadians and Mexicans traveling to the United States for tourism.

300 kilograms

Increase, from 2009 to 2013, in the yearly carbon footprint for each inhabitant of the tiny island nation of the Maldives as a result of international tourism.

$4.7 trillion

The amount of money, in U.S. dollars, spent on global tourism in 2013. That’s up from $2.5 trillion in 2009.

3 percent

Current annual growth in money spent on global tourism, which translates to tourism-related emissions of 6.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2025.


M. Lenzen et al. The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change. Published online May 7, 2018. doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0141-x.

Further Reading

C. Gramling. Cargo ships must cut their emissions in half by 2050. Science News Online, April 13, 2018.

M. Temming. U.S. will withdraw from climate pact, Trump announces. Science News Online, June 1, 2017.

T. Sumner. 195 nations approve historic climate accord. Science News. Vol. 189, January 9, 2016, p. 6.

S. Zielinski. Ecotourism could bring new dangers to animals. Science News Online, October 12, 2015.

S. Zielinski. You don’t have to go to Antarctica to see wild penguins. Science News Online, July 16, 2014.

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