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Africa: Tourism Has Capacity to Build Peaceful Societies

Tourism has proved to be one of the world’s fastest growing economic sectors, contributing significantly to the Gross Domestic Product of various nations.

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Yet the potential of this sector as an instrument of helping bring peace to the world has not been fully exploited.

With international tourist arrivals totalling almost 1,2 billion last year and expected to reach 1,8 billion by 2030, such large numbers can be useful in spreading peace.

It is important that more than half of the 1,8 billion tourist arrivals by 2030 will be in emerging economies and developing countries.

More statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) show that tourism is accounting for 10 percent of the global GDP, 30 percent of the world’s trade services and one in 11 jobs worldwide.

The above figures leave no doubt that tourism is an economic powerhouse that can be used to create opportunities to improve the people’s livelihoods.

More importantly, the huge number of travellers can be fully exploited to bring a word of peace among nations and open new public diplomacy fronts.

This is why the First World Conference on Tourism for Development held in Beijing, China, last week should be viewed as one of those important steps in opening new avenues for tourism.

The theme of the conference, “Tourism for Peace and Development” was a clear indication on the direction stakeholders want the sector to take.

That Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was part of the conference, which he officially opened, signified the importance of the tourism sector to China and the world at large.

And the speakers had a clear mission: without peace there is no tourism to talk about, so why not use tourism to create peace to ensure its survival?

Premier Li’s speech was an eye opener and one of the most important as it gave direction to the conference.

“There is need to make tourism a bond of peace,” was his message, “something that contributes to friendly exchanges and harmonious relations among the people to open and inclusive development”.

One of the solutions proffered by Premier Li was that countries and regions estranged in relations need to ease restrictions on personnel flows to allow cultural exchanges and “break the ice in bilateral exchanges”.

In Zimbabwe, tourism has managed to break the barriers with other nations and among the local people, effectively contributing to peace and economic development.

Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Dr Walter Mzembi attended the conference in Beijing where he spoke on tourism’s role in public diplomacy following decades of isolation by the West.

The early years of the millennium saw Western countries, not happy with the land reform, issue advisories to their citizens against travelling to Zimbabwe.

For nearly a decade, tourism in Zimbabwe was almost dead as the conflict with the Western countries continued.

Zimbabwe had been virtually ex-communicated from bodies such as the UNWTO due to non-payment of membership subscription as a result of the economic problems arising from its fallout with these countries over the agrarian reform.

Inflation last recorded in December 2008 was in excess of 240 million percent, the Zimbabwe dollar was in quadrillions to the US$ and the international media onslaught had virtually collapsed the Zimbabwe brand.

In February 2009, the Government of National Unity was formed and Dr Mzembi was appointed to the Tourism and Hospitality Industry portfolio.

What he said at the conference left many delegates with no doubt that tourism can indeed be a tool for peace.

And to quote him: “I immediately recognised the potential of people-to-people diplomatic potential of the tourism sector and how it would underwrite inter-state diplomacy going forward,” he said while addressing a session of the conference under theme “Tourism for Peace”.

Within a few months, Zimbabwe had regained its membership to bodies such as UNWTO, World Travel Tourism Council and the Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (retosa).

It was also important that a public diplomatic offensive be launched and this set Dr Mzembi and his team on a worldwide tour.

The team reached out to leaders of countries that had imposed travel restrictive measures against Zimbabwe for the survival of tourism.

What followed the diplomatic efforts was a clean bill of travel first from Germany, then countries in the European Union, the United States and Japan.

People-to-people to diplomacy had won for Zimbabwe and the peace brought by the tourism actors ensure the country’s tourism sector would easily return to normal.

The ultimate destination of the diplomatic offensive was the co-hosting of the 20th session of the General Assembly of the UNWTO by Zimbabwe and Zambia in 2013.

In between, tourism diplomacy had seen Zimbabwe elected to the executive council of the UNWTO, got successive chairmanship of retosa, was two-time president of the African Travel Association and now second time chairperson of the UNWTO Commission for Africa.

Dr Mzembi was able to graphically describe the situation at the Beijing conference.

“Unfortunately, following the inception of our agrarian reform, the response of a section of the international community created near similar conditions to those that prevailed pre-1980 for tourism, similar to war conditions,” he said.

“The response in itself by the section of the international community was a failure of State diplomacy. Tourism then came to the rescue, refusing to be a victim of collateral damage arising out of the failure of State diplomacy.

“Tourism has a natural patent to soft power and it should be deployed in public and people-to-people diplomacy.”

Going forward, it is clear, and living in the era of terrorism, that it is not hard power alone that will defeat the scourge.

It is complementary action from soft power that will ultimately win because terrorism is conceived and transported in the mind.

Dr Mzembi provided useful insights to support this argument.

“It is an ideological mindset and the citizen diplomacy will overwhelm terror because you cannot ask seven billion people to stay at home — 1,2 billion people are already part of the travel revolution,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s tourism minister observed that no country is safe from the scourge of terror and, therefore, “an attack on humankind no matter how geographically remote or distant is an attack on us all”.

The terror problem is rampant and requires global solutions, he said. It also should not just deal with outcomes and symptoms, but go to the causes.

“What really causes terror?” he asked the delegates. “We must look critically at current sources of terror, that it is not a coincidence that they appear to be from collapsed States, arising out of interventions in internal matters of targeted regimes.

“There is a link also with the emerging current refuge crisis in Europe.”

As more people travel around the world, they must be treated as ambassadors of goodwill who bring an olive branch of peace to their hosts.

And the number is expected to increase exponentially in the next decade, considering that in 1950 there were just 25 million international travellers.

Tourism definitely has the capacity to fight poverty and build peaceful societies and the sector must fully contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 universal goals.

It was important that the conference in Beijing was all-inclusive, with UN representatives, government ministers and high level tourism officials from across the world attending.

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Source: allafrica


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The $90 trillion question

(CNN)-Infrastructure may not be a word that sets hearts racing, but it’s vitally important for the future of our planet.

How important is it? Try $90 trillion. That’s the amount of money the world is expected to invest in infrastructure in cities, land use and energy over the next 15 years. As we continue to see shift of the economic center of gravity from developed to developing countries, rapid urbanization, changes in transportation and energy use, we need to make sure we’re investing that money wisely.

We must set course to a low-carbon future if we are to avoid the immense risks of climate change. Due to the long life of most infrastructure, the choices we make today will lock in emissions for decades to come.

On the one hand, we could keep building infrastructure that leads to more congested and polluted cities, low productivity and unsustainable agriculture, and dirty and inefficient fossil fuels. On the other, we could invest in more compact and connected cities, energy-efficient buildings, climate-resilient agriculture and cleaner forms of energy.

The low-carbon option is clearly a better choice. If we invest in more sustainable and climate-smart infrastructure, we could see very attractive returns. Because low-carbon structures generally cost less to operate, the additional upfront investments could potentially be offset by longer-term operational savings, including from reduced fossil-fuel use. And it would help us avoid the 3.7 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of which take place in low- and middle-income countries.

All countries will play a role in this economic transition, although their starting point and methods of change will depend on national circumstances. That being said, there are important steps that we should take today to avoid lock-in to unsustainable development patterns.

A strong, clear and credible policy environment will be crucial. Central to this will be extending and strengthening carbon prices around the world, including reforms to fossil-fuel subsidies, which are essentially negative carbon and pollution prices.

Around 40 countries and more than 20 states and cities are already applying carbon pricing either directly or through emissions trading schemes. China has just announced that it will launch a national carbon market in 2017. The growing evidence from countries around the world shows that carbon pricing is effective at reducing emissions without harming the economy.

Globally, subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuels represent around $600 billion annually. Government support to fossil-fuel consumption and production in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries and key emerging economies remains high, at $160 billion to $200 billion annually.

When also accounting for the wider health and environmental impacts of the fuels, as the International Monetary Fund has highlighted, that cost is much higher. Phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies would also free up government spending, which could be used to boost welfare and help protect the poor.

Financing the investments for the economic transition will take a mix of public and private funds. Public finance has a crucial role in leveraging private capital and directing it toward the right assets. South Africa’s renewable energy program, for example, has successfully mobilized $14 billion in domestic private finance for sustainable infrastructure.

Development banks have a particular role to play in providing finance and attracting private capital to developing countries. They can help reduce policy risks, take a longer-term view than many other investors and muster a range of instruments, such as guarantees and bonds, to support climate-smart and climate-resilient infrastructure financing. And they are trusted conveners of partnerships.

Several development banks are already taking steps to shift to more sustainable infrastructure financing. For example, the World Bank Group, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are limiting new financing for coal power plants. New infrastructure banks such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank have both opportunity and intention to establish investment policies that support sustainable infrastructure.

However, efforts to date are far from comprehensive, and in many institutions infrastructure financing and climate policies continue to exist in separate units. The G20 Global Infrastructure Initiative, for instance, needs to strengthen the links between infrastructure investment and climate change. In particular, this is because the G20 countries that support the initiative are taking on important commitments to reduce emissions ahead of the U.N. conference on climate change in Paris, which will inevitably require a significant shift in the infrastructure that is built. Now is the time to make policies more coherent, to ensure effective investments and minimize costs.

All countries, but those in the G20 in particular, should first ensure that climate risk and resilience are integrated into national infrastructure policies, plans and projects. Increasing the resilience of existing and new infrastructure will be needed in developing countries, which are hit earliest and hardest by climate impacts. Second, these plans and projects should be consistent with the climate pledges that are being made this year and the long-term goal of holding average global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).

Above all, mainstreaming climate considerations into infrastructure decisions will ensure that we’re spending our $90 trillion wisely. That will set us on a course to grasp the special, time-limited opportunity we now have to overcome poverty and foster sustainable growth while securing the climate for future generations. That thought certainly sets our hearts aflutter.

Source: edition.cnn


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Developing world tourism ‘not living up to its promise’

Tourism is developing unsustainably in many poorer nations and so is failing to deliver major economic gains, according to researchers speaking at a conference.

The sector is often lauded as a valuable source of income for developing countries with beautiful environments. But it is not creating better infrastructure such as roads and clean water, as its representatives often claim, the audience heard last week at the annual international conference of the United Kingdom’s Royal Geographical Society.

Vishal Singh, a researcher at the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research in India, told the event that “not enough is invested in local development” through tourism companies.

Singh gave the example of a lake near Sukhatal, a tourist attraction in the Himalayas. The lake has halved in size in nine years due to pumping and irrigation, but no local tourism revenue has ever been put into its conservation, he said.

According to sustainability NGO the Worldwatch Institute, tourism is a crucial source of foreign currency for the world’s 40 poorest countries. But research presented at the conference showed that tourism also directly harms the environment while generating ever-higher carbon emissions through international travel.

The conference, which ran from 1 to 4 September, heard that carbon dioxide emissions from tourists’ travel are expected to quadruple by 2100, making a significant contribution to climate change, which disproportionately affects developing countries.

Tourism contributes five per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, UN agency the World Tourism Organization reports.

This goal of a “clean sector” is not being achieved, said Paul Peeters, who researches sustainable tourism at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. He is urging the travel industry to make tourism more sustainable by reducing air and car travel and becoming less wasteful.

He told the conference the tourism sector was under increasing pressure to reduce its environmental impact from agriculture and electricity companies, which also have to cut emissions in countries with strict legislation.

But to Melanie Stroebel, who researches environmental governance at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, it is important to discover exactly which firms in the tourist sector are causing environmental harm so they can be held accountable. However, because of powerful interests, “a radical change in the tourism business context seems unlikely”, she said.

Stroebel also argued that proposed sustainability measures such as reducing air travel could harm developing countries. Stroebel said that tourism supports local retailers and creates jobs, mostly in the hotel and restaurant sector.

“There are economic benefits involved,” she told the event.

In the Maldives, for example, tourism generates 42 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), business forum the World Travel & Tourism Council reports.

But Peeters told SciDev.Net that tourism is a poor way to drive economic growth because it mainly offers basic jobs such as working in hotels or restaurants.

Source: eco-business


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S. Africa Takes Helm of UN’s Group of 77 Developing Nations

South Africa has taken leadership of the United Nations‘ “Group of 77,” during a particularly interesting year for that coalition of developing nations.

The new post puts South Africa in a position both of power and responsibility as the U.N. enters its deadline year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – global targets for developing nations.

The G77 represents a third of the U.N.’s membership, and includes nations as diverse as Bosnia and Herzegovina, a once-war-torn nation that is now striving to join the European Union – and Somalia, a chaotic, violent, woefully underdeveloped nation on Africa’s east coast.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Luwellyn Landers, made clear that he understood the gravity of the situation in his acceptance speech before the group in New York this week. The development goals, he said, will be a top priority.

“This year will prove to be a crucial year in which the various envisaged development processes would demand that we, as a group, remain even more steadfast in promoting the interests of developing countries,” he said. “The MDGs, adopted in 2000, set bold targets for development and were key in forging a global cooperation framework for development. Foremost in our efforts this year will be the evaluation of the progress made in reaching these goals and the negotiation of the post-2015 development agenda.”

But Landers also reminded the world’s superpowers of the collective might of the group. South Africa has repeatedly hinted at its own global ambitions, notably by joining BRICS, the economic bloc that also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Landers noted that the Group of 77 will continue to press to upturn the northern hemisphere’s grip on global power. All five of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the U.S. — are northern nations.

“South-South Cooperation is key for international cooperation and partnerships for development. This is especially in terms of global, regional and country-level efforts to achieve balanced sustainable development,” he said. “We must reiterate that South-South Cooperation is not intended to be a substitute for the obligations and responsibilities of the developed North.”

“Over the last few years, several developing countries have become the key drivers of global growth and their development is having a significant impact on the world economy,” Landers contined. “Growth and economic development in the South has significantly altered the strategic balance of power towards the countries of the South.”

Source: Voice of America