The Palau Bureau of Tourism, Sustainable Travel International and Slow Food have launched a new project in Palau that aims to mitigate the tourism sector’s carbon footprint and establish Palau as the world’s first “Carbon neutral tourism destination.”
The project is taking a destination-level approach that includes promoting local food production within tourism and developing a carbon-management program for tourists. This project supports the objectives of the Coalition of Fragile Ecosystems (COFE) and International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF) and has been endorsed by various government agencies in Palau.
The Pacific island nation of Palau is regarded as one of the top marine tourism destinations in the world. Last year, more than 89,000 international tourists visited the country, which has a population of just under 22,000. As such, tourism represents the islands’ main source of economic income and employment.
As a small island destination, Palau is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which threaten the islands’ marine ecosystems, coastal communities and tourism industry. While tourism is the economic lifeblood of the island, it also contributes to the climate crisis. Tourists are responsible for a significant portion of Palau’s carbon footprint as they travel to the remote island by plane and consume food imported from overseas.
In recent years, Palau has taken extensive measures to further environmental protection and responsible tourism. This includes establishing one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries; creating the world’s first mandatory eco-pledge (Palau Pledge) that all visitors are required to sign upon entry; banning tour operators from utilising single-use plastics and Styrofoam; and protecting its marine environment through the adoption of the world’s strictest national sunscreen standard. The new initiative, which is being led by Sustainable Travel International, builds upon the country’s past efforts to specifically address the tourism sector’s climate impact.
This project will reduce the carbon footprint of tourism in Palau by increasing the proportion of food that is sourced from local producers and reducing the industry’s dependence on imports. Among other activities, the project will accomplish this by building the capacity of farmers and fishers to market their products to tourists. Along with combating climate change, this will create income-generating opportunities for local communities and improve food security on the islands. An emphasis will be placed on sustainable production and empowering women producers to participate in the tourism value chain.
To compensate for tourism’s unavoidable emissions, the project will develop a carbon management programme for tourists to Palau. The new online platform will allow visitors to calculate and offset the carbon footprint associated with their trip, including both their travel to and activities in Palau.
In line with Palau’s leadership in marine conservation, the offset contributions will be invested in blue carbon initiatives, such as mangrove restoration or sustainable production activities in the region that reduce CO2 emissions. It is estimated that this programme has the potential to raise over US$1 million a year for these carbon reduction initiatives.