Seeing a burned-down rainforest is like going to a football match where all the fans are dead, or an opera where people are lying around bleeding.
That was the stark analogy from biologist Andrew Mitchell, founder of Global Canopy and advisor to the Prince of Wales Rainforest Project, at the launch of World Travel Market’s World Responsible Tourism Day.
After watching a video with delegates about the effects of deforestation, Mitchell said: “It brought a lump to my throat. Forests are living carbon.”
He said 13 million hectares of rainforest are burned down each year – equivalent to the size of England and accounting for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions from deforestation surpass the carbon footprint of all the cars, planes, and ships transporting tourists and equate to 12.5 million people flying between London and New York every day.
“Rainforests are worth more dead than alive so we have to turn that on its head,” said Mitchell.
He said the trees make way for crops such as soy to feed livestock, which provide us with chicken and beef, while palm oil is used in soaps and cosmetics.
“We are eating the Amazon without realizing,” he said at World Travel Market, the premier global event for the travel industry.
He urged the travel and tourism industry to support the Forest Footprint Disclosure Project, which asks firms to disclose how their operations and supply chains are affecting forests and what is being done to manage those effects responsibly.
Although a treaty on climate change may not be signed at next month’s crucial UN summit in Copenhagen, Mitchell said an agreement could be reached on reducing emissions from deforestation, generating the billions of dollars needed to halt the devastation.
Delegates were also invited to Trafalgar Square next week to view a “ghost forest” of trees from Ghana, which is part of a week of campaigning activities highlighting the dangers of deforestation and climate change.
Stephen Sackur, host of BBC’s HARDTalk, presented the opening sessions of the WTM World Responsible Tourism Day.
He recalled visiting the Ilulissat ice fjord in Greenland, which is the fastest melting glacier in the world, creating “amazing” ice sculptures.
“It was truly beautiful, but I fervently hope that this growth in ‘climate change tourism’ is one sector of the tourism market that does not grow,” he said.