Assessment of the Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change of the Tourism Sector in Small Island Developing States – A Case Study of Grenada

Kirsten Sander (June 2015)

Since the end of the 19th century, the increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and halocarbons, in the atmosphere have had accelerating impacts on the natural greenhouse effect and thereby caused anthropogenic climate change. The largest contributor is the greenhouse gas CO2, whose atmospheric concentration increased by 40% since pre-industrial times due to fossil fuel emissions and net land use change emissions (cf. IPCC 2013, pp. 11ff). Despite global efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the concentration of emissions are still increasing and the CO2 emission growth rate increased from 1.3% per year in the 1990s to 3.3% per year in the 2000s (cf. Scott et al. 2012a, p. 21). The uptake of these additional energy by the climate system caused an increase of the global average combined land and ocean surface temperature by 0.85° Celsius over the period 1880 to 2012 (cf. IPCC 2013, p. 5). This warming has caused losses in glacier mass and ice sheets as well as ocean thermal expansion, which has led to global mean sea level rise (cf. ibid., p. 9). Therefore, natural and human systems have to adapt to those and other negative current and future impacts. Adaptation can be implemented through technological options as well as through social, institutional and ecosystem-based measures. However, the uncertainty of long-term impacts and the effectiveness of adaptation options are just some of the barriers for successful adaptation to climate change (cf. IPCC 2014, pp. 4ff).

Especially small islands only contribute an insignificant portion to the global GHG emissions but belong to one of the most impacted groups; therefore, adaptation has been given priority. Small islands are vulnerable to current and future climate-related drivers of risk namely sea level rise, cyclones, increasing air and ocean surface temperature and changing rainfall pattern. Corresponding impacts on the ecological and social systems include shoreline changes, inundations, coral bleaching, changes in terrestrial biodiversity and decreasing rainfall and freshwater supply (cf. Nurse et al. 2014, pp. 1616ff). As opposed to this, some studies indicate that especially small island developing states (SIDS) possess a high natural resilience and showed strong social capacities to adapt to natural hazards climate issues since they have always been challenged by climate issues (cf. Hay 2013, p. 311; cf. Adger et al. 2007, p. 728). However, the natural resilience and adaptive capacity of SIDS are nowadays additionally pressured by global change (e.g. resource extraction), development, livelihood and local issues (e.g. unsustainable fishery). Hence, vulnerability is not an inherent characteristics but can be interpreted as a social construct in which marginalized groups within SIDS are most vulnerable (cf. Hay 2013, p. 311; cf. Adger et al. 2003, p. 181; cf. Adger et al. 2007, p. 728).

Many SIDS rely on the tourism sector as the main economic activity (cf. Hay 2013, p. 319). Tourism and the climate system mutually influence each other. On the one hand, the tourism sector is very dependent on the attractiveness of natural ecosystems, which makes the sector weather and climate-sensitive and thus vulnerable to climate change (cf. Nurse et al. 2014, p. 1623). Particularly the coastal social and ecological systems that sustain the tourism sector are threatened by rising sea levels, which put settlements, infrastructures, ecosystem services and economic stability at risk (cf. IPCC 2014, p. 24). On the other hand, the building of tourism infrastructure places stresses on coastal and other ecosystems and exacerbates the vulnerability of coastal zones to climate change impacts (cf. Nurse et al. 2014, pp. 1623f). The global tourism industry contributes 5% to global CO2 emissions, especially due to high transport volume and energy consumption (cf. Scott et al. 2012a, p. 100). Therefore, mitigation and adaptation needs and options are often interlinked in tourism infrastructure (cf. Nurse et al. 2014, pp. 1623f). Those synergies can be exploited especially due to the high potential of the tourism sector for mitigation measures, which are already part of good business practices and more widely spread than adaptation practices (cf. Becken et al. 2011, p. 79).

There is only a limited number of scientific studies on potential climate-related damages to the tourism sector (cf. Scott et al. 2012b, pp. 885ff). Additionally, there is only little knowledge about the adaptive capacity to accumulating and long-term climate and environmental impacts of the tourism sector in small island states (The CARIBSAVE Partnership 2012, p. 103). As a consequence, risk appraisal among tourism operators constitutes low awareness of climate change and does not include strategic planning and anticipation for potential climate risks. This compromises adaptive responses to the major threat of sea level rise and other climate-related impacts in small island tourism destinations (cf. Scott et al. 2012b, pp. 885ff). Long-term climate change impacts are given low priority in the tourism sector since short-term events, like external economic shocks, natural disasters or crime, have far more immediate impacts on the whole economy since they determine visitors’ choice (cf. Scott, Becken 2010, pp. 268ff). As Brooks and Adger (2004) suggest “a baseline analysis of adaptive capacity to cope with current climate” is a prerequisite to enhance adaptive capacity (Brooks, Adger 2004, p. 179). Public, private and civil tourism actors can possess and develop natural, technological, financial, human or social capacities to adapt to climate change impacts and thereby reduce vulnerability (cf. ibid, p. 168). In general, planned adaptation measures get more political attention but due to the dominance of the private sector in the tourism landscape, autonomous adaptation should be taken into stronger consideration (cf. Dubois, Ceron 2006, p. 404). Nevertheless, adaptive capacity cannot be directly measured quantitatively but rather be characterized by investigating possible changes of the sensitivity of human and ecological systems to climate (cf. Brooks, Adger 2004, p. 179). Moreover, mitigation measures in tourism businesses possess possibilities for integrating and mainstreaming adaptation, wherefore sustainable practices that have mitigating effects have the capacity to integrate adaptation actions (cf. Nurse et al. 2014, p. 1624). In order to contribute to the current state of research regarding climate change adaptation in the tourism sector in small island states, especially in developing states, the following research question was developed:

“What are the determinants of adaptive capacity to climate change of tourism actors in a small island developing state?”

In order to reveal a more comprehensive understanding of the determinants, their characteristics should be investigated in more detail. Hereby, indications for ways to enhance individual determinants can be given. Thus, a subsequent research question is:

“What are characteristics of the determinants of adaptive capacity?”

Some scientists have remarked that research on development, governance and management of tourism destinations from a resilience perspective was insufficient (cf. Luthe, Wyss 2014, p. 161). Therefore, this thesis discusses adaptive capacity to climate change also as an aspect of the resilience concept. Adaptive capacity can increase resilience and decrease vulnerability of a social-ecological system. A tourism destination can be seen as a social-ecological system whereby the reciprocity of climate and tourism is incorporated.


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