The idyllic holiday destinations can become a true hell like the one experienced in some Greek islands and Sicily this summer due to the fires or, simply, due to the extreme heat waves, like the four that have hit many parts of Spain this summer. . Both phenomena —fires and heat waves— are part of the catalog of disasters linked to climate change triggered by humans with their dependence on fossil fuels. The climate crisis threatens the health of the population and national economies. And in the case of tourism, where Europe is at stake (it is the most visited region on the planet and the sector moves around two trillion euros each year), the forecasts point to significant impacts and a reduction in visits in some areas to as global warming progresses. But will the damage be homogeneous throughout Europe? No. There will be winners and losers and the south of the continent is the one with the worst prognosis, according to an analysis prepared by the Joint Research Center (JRC), the group of scientists that is in charge of advising and investigating for the European Commission.
“EU policy aims to maintain Europe’s status as a leading tourist destination,” these experts explain in their report, including Spanish analysts David García-León and Juan Carlos Ciscar. The JRC study, entitled Regional impact of climate change on European tourism demand, seeks to provide an approximation of how visits to different destinations may evolve depending on the level of warming reached. In all scenarios, there are eight Spanish regions that are among the most affected by the reduction in the number of overnight stays. They are the Balearic Islands, Murcia, the Valencian Community, Extremadura, Andalusia, the Community of Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia. In addition, Spain as a whole is after Cyprus, Greece and Portugal the European country that will lose the most visitors.
Global warming is already hovering around 1.2 degrees Celsius. This means that the average surface temperature of the entire planet is 1.2 degrees warmer than in the pre-industrial era, that is, before humans got hooked on burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketed. greenhouse effect. As long as the world economy continues to emit, warming will continue to increase, as gases accumulate in the atmosphere and remain there for decades or centuries. In its study, the JRC proposes four scenarios for temperature increases: two optimistic (that warming remains at 1.5 or 2 degrees) and two pessimistic (that it reaches 3 or 4 degrees).
In the eight Spanish regions mentioned, reductions in overnight stays are forecast in any of the four scenarios analysed. Although the situation is complicated in the case of a temperature increase of 3 and 4 degrees. The Balearic Islands, for example, would lose up to 8.16% of overnight stays if 4 degrees were reached. While the reduction in Murcia would be 6.8% and 3.2% in the Valencian Community. For this analysis, the JRC experts take 2019 tourism data as a base, which is similar to the current one after several years of impact from the pandemic in the sector.
The Greek region of the Ionian Islands — hit this summer by fires — would be the most affected by this 4 degree warming scenario, with a 9.1% reduction in overnight stays. It is followed by the Greek islands in the North Aegean Sea (-9%), those in the South Aegean (-8.6%) and Cyprus (-8.2%). Fifth place is occupied by the Balearic Islands and seventh by the Region of Murcia.
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The study analyzes the effects in 267 European regions. In 50 – fundamentally, those located further south on the continent – is where losses of tourists are forecast in that scenario of 4 degrees of warming. At the opposite extreme, in 53 regions considerable increases in overnight stays are anticipated, above 5%. The one that would benefit most is West Wales, in the United Kingdom, where there would be increases of almost 16%.
“We found a clear north-south pattern in changes in tourism demand, with northern regions benefiting from climate change and southern regions facing significant reductions in tourism demand,” the report explains. “This pattern is more acute for scenarios of higher levels of warming,” it adds.
To carry out their analysis, the JRC experts have prepared a historical evaluation that estimates the statistical relationship between overnight stays, the so-called tourist climate index (which focuses on comfort linked to weather conditions) and other economic variables. The type of destination is also taken into account, whether it is urban, coastal, nature, snowy mountain, rural or mixed. And based on these data, they forecast how the tourist demand will evolve for months and the variations in overnight stays.
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Regarding the monthly demand, changes are expected in “tourism seasonality patterns”. “Northern European coastal regions are expected to register a significant increase in demand during the summer and early autumn months, while southern coastal regions are expected to lose tourists during the summer, especially in the more severe climate scenarios. warm”, explain the authors. Regarding tourism demand in general, the climate impact is positive in all warming scenarios, with a projected increase in demand in the whole of Europe of between 0.35% and 1.58% depending on the scenario. “But the aggregate results hide a high degree of heterogeneity between regions,” warn the authors of the report, which points to this north-south difference.
By country, Cyprus (with a reduction of up to 8.28% in tourist demand in the worst warming scenario) is the country that is worst off. It is followed by Greece (-7.26%), Portugal (-3.31%) and Spain, with a fall of 3.14% if it reaches 4 degrees.
But within Spain the situation is also heterogeneous. And there will also be winners and losers. The regions that benefited most from the increase in overnight stays are Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. If a warming of 4 degrees is reached, the tourist demand would increase by 7.2%, 4.2% and 3.1% respectively in these autonomies.
But that is the worst case scenario, which would mean a breach of the Paris Agreement, the climate treaty signed in 2015 and which forces the signatory countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions until they almost disappear from the second half. of the century. This pact establishes the goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees and, as far as possible, below 1.5. That is the safety limit that science has set. Complying with what was agreed in Paris would also be good news for the Spanish tourism sector. In the scenario of an increase of only 1.5 degrees, the JRC study predicts a reduction of only 0.31% in tourist demand in Spain; in that of 2 degrees, the decrease would be 0.4%, far from the 3.14% expected if it reaches 4 degrees.
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