This week we take you to the Netherlands: Meet Paul Peeters, Associate Professor at NHTV University Breda and Director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism and Transport. His research is focused on the issue of tourism transportation and its effect on climate change. In the interview Paul Peeters shares his thoughts on the recent Paris Summit on Climate Change and aviation industry’s long way to go regarding climate friendliness.
- How Paul Peeters’ view on sustainability and tourism has changed since he first heard about the concept;
- Why it is so difficult to identify sustainable destinations;
- Why transport is so important but often overlooked when measuring environmental impact of tourism;
- The main technical issue which prevents us from enjoying a more sustainable aviation;
- The outcome of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris in 2015.
Paul, do you remember the first time you heard about sustainability in a tourism context – and your initial thoughts?
As a child, I wanted to become an entomologist, but I ended up as an aircraft engineer at Fokker Aircraft. After four years at Fokker and worrying news about failing resources and acid rain destroying our forests, I started a career as a researcher, first in wind energy, followed by sustainable transport and, finally, 13 years ago as a professor of sustainable transport and tourism. I had become familiar with sustainable development before, but only then did I really learn the definitions of ‘sustainable tourism’. And these definitions surprised me! So much seemed to be drenched in kerosene!
Has your view on sustainability and tourism changed since then?
When I started research in this area, I thought a whole range of environmental issues would be at stake. But, I learned that energy and climate change were actually the most serious ones, with water and waste being problematic in some destinations.
I found it very difficult to get this message to the ‘sustainable tourism research community’ that was mainly engaged in nature-based, community-based and pro-poor tourism, off-setting carbon emissions and eco-labels for accommodations and destinations. These forms of sustainable tourism depended strongly on long-haul flights from the rich west to the poor south. Really difficult to understand!