According to Shakespeare, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.”

Today that tide is a socio-economic and geopolitical tsunami with enormous risk, but massive opportunity if our leaders can align short-term response to the economic meltdown; medium term response to the development agenda and long term response to the climate imperative.

Linking the need for global economic stimulus with the transformational potential of a low carbon energy regime.

Thomas Friedman has called it the 21st century equivalent of the Industrial revolution or the Internet boom – in his seminal analysis – Hot, Flat and Crowded. The only way to respond to the challenges of depleting resources, skyrocketing population and massively increasing globalized demand

In this transformation, tourism has much to offer and much to gain. Today I want to outline why and how.

Last month’s “UNFCCC Climate Conference received little attention from a tourism world preoccupied with economic meltdown and credit crunch. It’s hard to focus on the next half century when next week’s survival is on your mind and 24/7 multimedia is screaming that the global economy is teetering on the brink of ‘30s style depression. Or more colloquially put – you don’t worry about draining the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.

There are good reasons to get serious about what was happening in Poznan:
• Climate Change won’t retreat because the economy has gone pear shaped – extreme weather events continue to increase. There can be no last minute “bailouts” for the world’s ecosystems.

• And the same can be said about Poverty – we have to stay on track with the Millennium Development Goals and the Doha Development Round, with major support for the world’s poorest countries.

• What is also reality is that a massive new climate deal is just 12 months away and it will radically change consumption and production patterns. There are no planetary survival alternatives.

• It’s increasingly clear that the UN “Green New Deal”, based on a low carbon lifestyle, new energy technology and coherent poverty response might offer such a transformational potential.

• And it’s geopolitically the flavour of the month; as a central plank of the new Obama stimulus strategy– as well as for China, Brazil, Korea, Japan, India and the EU.

The bottom line is to reduce total green house gas emissions progressively to levels where global warming is tolerable; to price fossil fuel to reflect its real societal cost; o maximize use and development of renewables and conservation; to link new energy technology with new information technology; and to ensure an increasingly equitable distribution & financing of benefits to integrate the weakest into the new green economy.

Key building blocks include:
• Tough, binding targets for green house gas reduction in scientifically meaningful and measurable ways. Aiming at 50 to 80 percent reductions by 2050.
• Common but differentiated responsibilities and timeframes for emission reduction for rich and poor countries
• Coherent and synergistic linkage to the MDGs and the poverty reduction agenda, as well as to evolving trade and development financing programs.
• A program of change including adaptation; mitigation; technology and financing, with a big push on innovation.
• New public private partnerships for green energy, engaging also civil society.
This will mean a world of country and company carbon targets; of cap and trade auctions: of massive bio-fuel and renewables support: of efficient building, smart grid and hybrid vehicle investment of green technology funds and of green tax and fiscal incentives.

Big change and big opportunity: Tourism must be a key player in this brave new world
• Our product depends massively on climate;
• Business and leisure travel – produces some 5 percent of global emissions. Aviation – the key international delivery mode creates at least 2 percent of carbon dioxide and it’s growing faster than the norm in the absence of non fossil fuel alternatives.
• Our supply and demand flows are a vital part of international trade and domestic consumption driving directly and indirectly by some estimates 8 – 10 percent of global output and jobs
• For all of the world’s poorest states, ecotourism is a primary export, employment & investment base. It’s the main economic stepladder for equitable development and air transport is the only possible way to get there.
• Above all we are a unique catalyst for other sectors of the economy – services and manufacturing. And we are a communicator par excellence so we can carry the message.

Frankly we have only scratched the surface of our clean, green potential. Looking at the issues at best sporadically: at worst opportunistically. Many individual companies have engaged but most have dealt with these matters at a technical or pr level – not at a boardroom level where they belong. Now it’s time to mainstream.

How many hotels use solar panels? How much transport uses renewable energy? How much infrastructure reflects green building standards? How much investment contains sustainability criteria. And how many jobs include environment and climate response training.

Here is the big opportunity: We need to be at the forefront of this new green economic change to ensure that essential characteristics of our industry are reflected – as a wealth and jobs creator and a social integrator.

First, we must recognize the transformation potential and get squarely behind the Green New Deal. It’s still early days in the global acceptance of this kind of economic approach but we must understand it – the pros and the cons – to maximize our contribution and our benefits. And we must work to position the sector now when governments are putting together stimulus packages and when the massive transformational funds for climate adaptation and aid for trade are being put together.

Second, we must learn to measure our impacts – and to do so in a way that not only tracks with Tourism Satellite Accounting – but also with mainstream green economic measurement. At the 1999 Nice Statistics Conference of UNWTO I proposed formally that we should combine the TSA approach with the discipline of Environmental Satellite Accounting. 10 years later we can no longer be indifferent to the need.

Third, we must create vehicles to promote the Green Economy across the sector and with key audiences. This will require us to integrate the concept and our role in transformation into mainstream structures, meetings and events. And to use our massive routine communications channels. One way to do this is to highlight transformation champions. From the top down – the Earth Lung initiative supported by UNWTO, to grow tourism while measurably reducing carbon emissions – initiated by Sri Lanka last year and by Egypt this year. From the bottom up – the global sustainability criteria sponsored by the Rain Forrest Alliance and others to bring green, clean standards to companies and communities. Or UNEP’s Green Passport to sensitize and engage consumers.

Fourth, we must build the quadruple bottom line into all policies and programs. Adding climate to economic, social and environment fundamentals in the sustainability equation. Creating a new balance that starts from the need for energy efficiency for long term survival. And ensuring that we incorporate the real costs of all the components in our green transformation. We must mainstream “smart tourism” – clean: green: ethical and quality. And we must underpin it with a massive ICT expansion to enhance efficiency. And to intensify public – private sector collaboration. In the final analysis the private sector will be the main deliverer and beneficiary – but governments have to create the enabling framework.

Fifth, we must replace talk and lofty statements with action. We have passed the analysis and declaration stage. We have had plenty of “leadership initiatives”. What we need now is committed implementation starting NOW and evolving with the framework to be agreed in Copenhagen a year from now.

While the ultimate decisions will be taken by states and the execution private sector focused, much of the international roadmap for change is being driven by the UN system and we are working to ensure that tourism is positioned in that framework.

Writing in Herald Tribune, Maureen Dowd described President Barack Obama’s leadership role as that of a “convenor” bringing stakeholders together, ensuring rigorous analysis and thoughtful decisions. We see ourselves with that role in the transformation to the green economy.

For more than five years, we have been locked at the hip with UNEP and WMO – and latterly with the World Economic Forum – to create a multi-stakeholder response framework driven by global; and regional tourism ministerial support meetings.

The 2007 Davos Declaration Process identified directions for government, the private sector and civil society. It also introduced seminal research on the impact of climate change on tourism and on the sector’s total and component carbon footprint. This research is being widened and deepened in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and other stakeholders.

And we are deeply engaged within the UN System along with ICAO to ensure that a tourism voice is brought into play in the relevant decision making processes.

Our climate response campaign and solutions portal are designed to maintain the pace. And our multi-stakeholder outreach is meant to push the advance across the sector – large and small countries, communities and companies; rich and poor, developed and developing.

In this context, we value very much our longstanding collaboration with the European Travel Commission’s and look forward to more detailed exploration of these matters in a green economy focused conference later this year.

Geoffrey Lipman is currently the assistant secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and is a professor at Victoria University and Christel DeHaan Institute.