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A necessary shift to reduce the climate impact of tourism

The new report produced by eco-union, in the framework of the Viaja en Verde initiative, describes the existing opportunities and barriers for a modal shift towards cleaner modes of transport in tourist mobility, and how it contributes to the reduction of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted. It also includes policy recommendations to accelerate this necessary modal shift if we want to reduce the climate impact of tourism.

It shows that for Spanish residents the car is the most used means of transport for domestic trips, accounting for more than 80% of trips in 2019. In the case of foreigners travelling to Spain, they mostly travel by air. For those travelling from neighbouring or nearby countries, rail could be an alternative if cross-border services were more efficient and offered more options, such as night trains.

Private cars and the aviation sector are responsible for the vast majority of CO2 emissions in the transport sector, which accounts for 25% of Spain’s emissions. A modal shift from air and car to rail is therefore very important, as it would be an important step towards reducing the country’s overall emissions.

The report highlights that there are rail options for the busiest roads by car, more or less efficient depending on the route. On some routes, where services are consistent and of high quality, the share of rail over air has increased dramatically, as seen with the Madrid-Barcelona route. The priority should be to reinforce services on roads where the journey cannot be made by train in less than five or six hours.

As the surveys in the report show, the willingness to choose transport options based on environmental impact is higher in Spain than in the EU average. However, they also reveal that the lack of information on the impact of different modes of transport on the environment and on the options available hinders a real change in tourists’ transport choice behaviour.

Furthermore, it is pointed out that there is still not enough data to be able to quantify a possible modal shift from car and plane to rail, so a comprehensive study of the potential for modal shift in Spain should be carried out, taking into account the current situation and the willingness of people to participate in reducing CO2 emissions by changing their travel behaviour. 

Through this report, we also share a series of policy recommendations that aim to contribute to the promotion of modal shift to rail:

  1. Assess the climate impact of tourism mobility with decarbonisation and modal shift objectives.
  2. Promote low-carbon rail services in line with tourism travel needs.
  3. Improve information on the climate impact of different modes of transport when purchasing tickets.
  4. Actively promote sustainable mobility with campaigns to encourage clean modes of transport.
  5. Facilitate the process of travelling by train, improving intermodality and coordination between operators and other modes of transport.
  6. Reform transport taxation to encourage clean mobility.

Read or download the report here

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