Ireland’s tourism sector is on the crest of a wave. It had a record year in 2018. More than 300,000 people were employed in the industry, generating billions in revenue and almost €2bn in various taxes. Turnover hit more than €6bn, a 10% increase over 2017. Visitor numbers topped 11m, a 6% increase in a year. In purely business terms, these figures are spectacular and should be celebrated. But, like everything in life, it may not be that simple, that cut-and-dried. Viewed through the Greta Thunberg prism, tourism is one of the industries contributing significantly to our climate crisis. There is, unfortunately, a diehard constituency that scoffs before disengaging, once Greta Thunberg’s name is mentioned. Maybe they should look beyond the random, challenging figurehead and consider the science.
Just yesterday, the World Meteorological Organisation reported that levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have reached another record high. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main gas driving global warming, reached highs of 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million in 2017, the UN body records. Concentrations of other greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, also surged by higher amounts in 2018 than in the past decade. WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, warned: “We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition, for the sake of the future welfare of mankind.”
One likely action was outlined at a University of Limerick tourism workshop in Clare last weekend. Economist Colm McCarthy predicted that air fares will increase by up to 30% over the next decade, as the EU plans higher aviation taxes. Mr McCarthy, a director of the State airports’ agency, DAA, said the commission wants to hit jet kerosene with a 33c a litre tax and that Brussels also wants to end a Vat exemption for airline tickets. He suggested that the impact on tourism — inward and outward, presumably — would directly reflect new taxes, so the 2018 record for the sector may stand for some time. Time to plan for a new reality, maybe?
Another of those actions is a long-touted ban on smoky coal. The EPA has persistently called for one, pointing out that dirt in air from smoky coal is responsible for 1,000 deaths a year. However, the Government has been accused of making concessions to importers, rather than protecting public health. A Government spokesperson confirmed that “a number” of coal firms have indicated they would challenge an expanded ban. They should be faced down, as their profit plans cannot take precedence over our health. Once again, personal choices have a huge role to play in this issue.
The coal companies’ untenable position is unfortunately echoed elsewhere. In a few weeks’ time, the IFA will elect a new president. Early campaign debates have been criticised as “head-in-the-sand populism on eco issues (which) will turn farmers into social pariahs”. All three candidates have been accused of being unrealistic on climate and EU subsidies.
Every sector, and every one of us, will have to embrace challenging change in this crisis. To pretend otherwise is no longer plausible: it has become dangerous.