Simon Gardner, Reuters
Colombo: Enjoy your exotic Asian beach or skiing holidays while you can.
In coming decades, warmer weather, rising seas, more intense storms, even changes in ocean currents will literally wipe some idyllic destinations off the tourist map, experts say.
Thousands, and possibly millions, of jobs could be lost.
Tourism accounts for 35% of the Maldives’ annual GDP of around $800 million (Rs3,416 crore).
But the Indian Ocean island chain, on average just 1.5 metres (five feet) above sea level, risks disappearing within generations if sea levels rise in line with the U.N. climate panel’s predictions.
Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting in Brussels on Friday issued the bleakest U.N. warning yet about the impacts of global warming.
“Our entire tourism infrastructure is coastal-based,” Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed told Reuters in an interview on Friday. “If sea levels were to rise and destroy all our beaches, then obviously the main attraction is gone.”
“We are reputed to be a diving destination ... What climate change will also do is raise the (sea) temperature, which will kill the reefs,” he added.
Scientists say climate change could also devastate Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The tourism industry fears the natural wonder could badly damaged or even extinct in 40 years.
“If there’s no reef, there’s no tourism. So it is a concern,” David Windsor, executive director of the Barrier Reef Tourism Operators Association, told Reuters.
“There has been significant bleaching of corals over the past few years, which is directly attributable to water getting warmer,” he added.
The 2,300 km (1,400 miles) reef is Australia’s top tourist drawcard, attracting 4.9 million visitors a year, generating about 60,000 jobs and more than A$5.4 billion ($4.5 billion) a year for the economy.
Bye, bye Bondi?
Around Japan’s Okinawa island it is a similar story.
“We hear from divers that there appears to be more and more bleaching each year,” said Yasunori Toma of Okinawa government’s Tourism Planning Department. The warmer waters have also triggered invasions of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
The palm-fringed beaches of Goa in western India, which attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, are also extremely vulnerable.
By 2030, beach erosion and inundation of shoreline properties was likely to be a serious problem, according to a recent report by Halifax Travel Insurance.
Another report by British insurance company Churchill and the Centre for Future Studies in September listed Goa alongside the Great Barrier Reef as among the top 10 destinations that might be taken off the tourist map by 2020.
Himalayan ski resorts such as Gulmarg, Auli and Narkanda could also be affected because higher temperatures mean the number of skiing days would be reduced, said K. Srinivas, climate change campaigner for Greenpeace India. The danger of landslides also increased.
Shunji Takahashi, a forecaster with Japan’s Meteorological Agency, pointed to declining snow falls in parts of northwest and northern Japan, where many of the nation’s ski areas are located.
“I believe things like the ski season will become shorter,” Takahashi said.
A worker at Amihari ski area north of Tokyo agreed.
“The snow is getting less each year. In the past, there used to be snow until May but now it really only lasts until the end of March.”
Beaches from Bondi in Sydney, to Fiji, Bali, Thailand and the Philippines are also under threat.
Rising seas and storm surges would erode Bondi. Huge amounts of sand would have to be imported to try to preserve the beach, a sea-level expert told Australian media in February.
In low-lying Singapore, half of the city’s man-made East Coast Beach has already disappeared due to erosion, prompting the government to look into building more sea walls along the beach to prevent damage from rising tides and stronger currents.
Still, it’s not all gloom.
“I don’t think winter sports will die out because of climate change -- it will just bring growth to a new form of indoor winter sports to trade in for the loss in outdoor sports,” said Han Wha-jin of South Korea’s Environment Institute.
She also expected growth in summer sports, such as golf.
Some tour operators were also upbeat.
Subhash Goyal, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said climate change posed real risks.
“However, if some beach is damaged, it is not going to affect the growth of the tourism industry in India as tourists will find another beach. So much of India’s coast remains undeveloped so we have plenty of space,” Goyal added.
—Reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo, James Grubel in Canberra, Nita Bhalla and Manjusha Chatterjee in New Delhi, Jack Kim in Seoul and Koh Gui Qing in Singapore. Writing by David Fogarty