Tourism leaders should acknowledge the industry’s contribution to global warming and not try to focus attention elsewhere, said United Nations World Tourism Organisation deputy secretary-general Taleb Rifai.

Speaking at the ITB conference in Berlin last week he said: “If tourism was a country it would be the world’s fifth-biggest contributor to climate change. 

“Tourism contributes to global warming and there is no way to avoid that. It is an unstoppable industry with 6.2% growth last year”.

Rifai warned the industry would be among the biggest losers from climate change. “The size of the industry and the rate of growth means tourism is a contributor to and a victim of global warming. The assets of tourism are threatened.” he said.

“Other industries can say they only make this or that contribution to climate change and also have economic benefits. We do not need excuses. We do not need to find counter benefits [for tourism]. The issue is how to deal with climate change responsibly.

“Tourism must acknowledge its contribution. We need to cut the emissions of the industry and explain the urgent need to adapt sustainable tourism.”

However, governments should not lose sight of the economic benefits of tourism, said Rifai. “Tourism generates wealth and we cannot accept the idea that people do not travel. We need to act without discriminating against the developing countries that will be most affected by any reduction in tourism earnings.”

TUI fly head of aero-political affairs Raphael von Heeremann said: “The pressure on airlines in Europe over emissions is unbelievable. You feel guilty working in the airline industry. But if we stopped all air movements it would not solve climate change.”

Von Heeremann pleaded for a simplified air traffic control system in Europe. “Every minute of flying time we save cuts emissions,” he said.