The head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has challenged travel leaders to “be bold” in efforts to cut the industry’s carbon footprint.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, told the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Buenos Aires: “We are running out of time – 2017 was a disaster in many corners of the globe.

“The reality is we only have a short period to keep the global temperature rise to two degrees centigrade. If we don’t address this, there won’t be businesses to run.”

Espinosa said: “This is the first time our organisations [the UNFCCC and WTTC] have formally met, and it is important we do. Travel and tourism is one of the largest sectors in the world. For some small countries and small island states the tourism economy means everything.

“Of course, tourism is about more than numbers. Economically, socially and culturally, travel and tourism is important. But your industry also has a carbon footprint, representing about 5% of global [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

She insisted: “I’m not here to talk about restrictions. But it’s hard to sell a vacation to a city that has sunk below the waves.”

Espinosa said: “There are many actions you could take right now.”

WTTC leaders joined the UNFCCC in signing a Common Agenda for Climate Change at the summit, pledging to set carbon-reduction targets for member companies.

Espinosa told summit attendees: “Set your own pledges [on carbon reduction]. Make efficiencies in your supply and delivery chains. Encourage people to use electric vehicles. Find an alternative to using plastics in hotels and on beaches.

“Climate change is linked to almost every other challenge humanity faces.

“Be bold in your efforts. What seem like small changes for one company can have a ripple effect. The travel and tourism sector can both participate in and lead the change.”