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Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber gave important messages in his keynote speech on Thursday at the ITB Berlin Convention.

Climate change threatens many destinations

In order to save civilisation attention is turning to durable wooden structures

March 9, 2023

Achieving net zero by 2050 will not be enough to save human civilisation. In order to keep Earth habitable it was necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This could be achieved if as many buildings as possible, including hotels, event venues and airports, were in future built with wood. That was the message Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber gave in his keynote speech on Thursday at the ITB Berlin Convention. The climate expert and longtime former director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) highlighted a tourist attraction built with wood that was already setting an example: Hotel Jakarta in Amsterdam.

The limits of what the planet could tolerate had to be taken seriously. Prof. Schellnhuber also made that clear in his keynote speech. If the environmental and climate tipping points which Schellnhuber described as the planet’s vital organs were triggered, causing permanent change, this would have serious consequences ultimately leading to the destruction of human civilisation. The Antarctic ice sheet was particularly important, because its collapse would lead to a sea level rise of around 80 metres. “Half of England would be underwater and the Crimea would at most be a tiny island that no one would want to fight over", said Schellnhuber.

Current climate change developments threatened countries in the global south especially. Countries previously regarded as stable such as New Zealand were increasingly impacted by natural disasters, flooding for instance, said Schellnhuber. “In terms of tourism the only countries that stood to benefit from massive Earth warming would be Russia and Canada“, Schellnhuber continued. “Russia would be the main tourism destination and that is not a good prospect“, he added. Too much CO2 in the atmosphere also led to ocean acidification, and water with excessive CO2 destroyed coral reefs.

Concerning the impact of tourism on climate change, the latest figures put the sector’s emissions at eight per cent of global output. UNWTO has called for these emissions to be halved by 2030. At the same time economic researchers forecast the sector will expand by 169 per cent by 2050, indicating two developments that run more or less counter to each other. “We need tourism to undergo a huge transformation" was Schellnhuber’s verdict.

The climate researcher also cautioned not to point the finger at individual sectors, as ultimately they were all responsible for CO2 emissions. He therefore appealed to holidaymakers and travellers to take individual responsibility for their carbon footprint on their travels. It was also worth noting that per head of the Earth’s population an average of three tonnes of CO2 would be the limit for every year until 2050. Overall, the outlook Schellnhuber presented was anything but pessimistic. If one were to plant 50 trees for each of the ten billion of Earth’s future population, at around 500 dollars per person, that would extract a considerable amount of CO2 from the atmosphere in the long term, capturing it in wood for one to two hundred years. It would be important however not to burn or process this wood into paper, but to use it for durable wooden structures instead.

Thomas Rietig