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World: Global Warming Could Threaten Tourism

Scientists are saying the Earth is getting hotter, and global warming is more than just a worry for environmentalists. Some studies show that higher temperatures could make today's top tourist spots less attractive to vacationers. RFE/RL correspondent Ben Partridge looks at how climate change could hurt the world tourism industry.

London, 3 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A new study on climate change says global warming could affect much of the world's tourist industry. The study says higher temperatures could make Mediterranean resorts too hot for beachgoers, and Alpine slopes too slushy for skiers.

The study was commissioned by a conservationist group, the Worldwide Fund for Nature. It was conducted by climatologists at Britain's University of East Anglia, who track climate change by measuring air, sea and soil temperatures around the world.

Climatologists used to say the world is experiencing an interglacial age, a period of warmth between much colder periods. The present age began some 10,000 years ago. Until a few decades ago, experts were united in their prediction that the world was due to enter a new ice age "soon" -- that is, within 1,000 to 3,000 years.

But, lately, evidence of global warming is growing. Experts say the global expansion of industry, and other activities such as deforestation, have led to a rise in emissions of "greenhouse gases," in particular carbon dioxide. These emissions act like a blanket over the world's surface, trapping heat.

Ute Collier is the climate change policy officer of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. She says the world is certainly getting hotter.

"Climate change is actually happening already. In the last 16 years, we have seen the 11 hottest years on record. So it is going to be a gradual transition, but (we will see) more and more extremes over the next 10, 20 and 30 years." Some experts say without a cut in carbon dioxide emissions, global average temperatures could rise one-quarter of a degree Celsius every 10 years, or two and a half degrees a century. What then? Many holiday resorts would see exceptional temperature changes. The new study suggests global warming could make many popular tourist destinations uncomfortably warm, from the beaches of Greece and Turkey to the ski slopes of Austria and France.

"The report looked at 10 of the most popular holiday destinations for European holidaymakers, ranging from the European Alps, the Maldives, Florida, etc. We found that climate change would have a very wide-ranging impact on some of these popular resorts, ranging from sea-level rises to heat waves, to malaria getting into Spain."

By 2020, the study says, heat waves in Spain could turn the southern coast into a suitable habitat for disease-bearing mosquitoes, putting visitors at risk of malaria. In addition, an increase in summer temperatures to more than 40C (104F) could make Mediterranean and Black Sea beaches too hot for tourists.

Winter tourism in the Alps and other European skiing destinations would also be affected, with less snowfall and a shorter skiing season.

Central Asia, seen as an emerging and exotic holiday destination, could be affected, too, if drier conditions lead to an expansion of its deserts.

Are these predictions of global warming exaggerated? No, says Tim Sparks, of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, a British government-funded research group. Sparks is a statistician, not a climatologist, who works with academic colleagues in Central Europe and Scandinavia. He says northern Europe's spring is arriving earlier.

"We have very conclusive evidence that migrant birds are arriving earlier in the spring than they have done in the past. Very strong evidence from our butterfly monitoring schemes that butterflies are emerging earlier in the spring, and very strong evidence that trees are leafing earlier in the spring as well."

Environmentalists say industrialized nations urgently need to cut carbon pollution released by the burning of coal, oil and gas. Nations should shift away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of power, and step up the search for alternative sources of energy.

The tourism industry itself is not just a potential victim of global warming -- it also contributes to the causes. Passenger jets already emit a lot of carbon dioxide.

And climatologists say things will likely get worse. Tourism is poised to overtake the oil industry as the world's largest industry. The new study predicts the number of tourists is likely to triple by 2020, to more than 1.6 billion people.