The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) joined together for Earth Day (April 22) to share their collaborative intent to emerge from the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and help rebuild a stronger, more resilient Caribbean for the environment and the people that depend on it.
Patricia Affonso-Dass, president of CHTA, the leading association of private sector tourism companies in the Caribbean, said the reopening of the region's shuttered tourism sector is an important opportunity to address the issues posed by climate change, which she described as "the biggest challenge to the future of the Caribbean and the life-support systems, which make our region habitable for our people and so attractive for visitors from all over the world."
Affonso-Dass endorsed the call for action on climate change issued by the organizers to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by noting the hospitality and tourism sectors' contributions to the climate problem, as well as actions Caribbean destinations can take to neutralize climate changing damage. "Earth Day's message of 'climate action' is a reminder to us individually, as companies, organizations and governments of our need to act responsibly. There is ample opportunity to more than counter and reduce any negative environmental impact from travel," she said.
Caribbean islands, according to the CHTA, are among the world's most vulnerable to impacts from climate change, with storm frequency and intensity, flooding, wind damage and sea level rise all predicted to worsen. This increases threats to islands' infrastructures and people who call the Caribbean home. The Nature Conservancy has long been working towards protecting the Caribbean from the impacts of climate change by promoting the protection and restoration of coastal habitats (such as mangroves and coral reefs) to reduce risks, and by helping governments, partners and communities implement sustainable development initiatives that prioritize nature.
Affonso-Dass said that dangerous carbon emissions, neglect of natural resources and poverty are major contributors to environmental degradation and pointed out that sustainable tourism education and effective communications were powerful anti-poverty and conservation tools. These tools, she added, give communities the resources needed to improve their lives and their environments which, in turn, attract visitors and the revenue they bring. Affonso-Dass also noted that the emissions from air and sea travel were significant but adds she is encouraged by the advances being made in the aviation industry to reduce emissions through more fuel-efficient aircraft and a diminished reliance on fossil fuels. "We in the hotel sector are making great strides in reducing our carbon footprint through efficiencies, which are welcomed by our guests and by our members, who see how these measures, which mitigate climate change, can also increase efficiency and revenue," she said.
"Our collaboration with TNC, and its impressive science-based conservation track-record, has enabled us to more strategically develop our approaches to ensure the natural resources of our Caribbean destinations can be enhanced—because we recognize that tourism, our region's major earner, can only thrive if our coasts, our beaches, our seas, our forests, our fauna and flora, and our people, also thrive," Affonso-Dass said.
Rob Brumbaugh, executive director for TNC's Caribbean Division, said, "In order to create a climate-resilient Caribbean, we need to take steps to mitigate climate change both through better technology and business practices, as well as through nature-based solutions. We need to better recognize the role that nature can play in absorbing excess carbon, as well as helping communities adapt to a changing climate."
Both organizations concurred that Earth Day awareness in the Caribbean should extend far beyond April 22, and urged the taking of active roles in raising awareness of the need for climate action while there was still time.