Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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Changes in the magnitude and frequency of extreme events such as hurricanes, avalanches, fires, and floods have considerable implications for tourism and recreation. One likely consequence of global climate change is sea-level rise. This may have considerable consequences for the provision of recreational opportunities in coastal communities, particularly if it is associated with increased storm frequency.

Figure 15-8: Reductions in claims payable, by size of loss. Ability of U.S. property-casualty insurance sector, as a whole, to pay claims over a wide range of losses. The chart shows four views, encompassing changes in capacity between 1991 and 1997 and whether companies have access to resources of groups that own them. Groups are not obligated to pay losses experienced by individual member firms but retain the option to do so. Together, these four scenarios represent a range of ability to pay losses. For example, for a US$155 billion loss year—a recent estimate of probable maximum loss (PML) (GAO, 2000) could be several events combined, including weather- and nonweather-related ones—65 to 90% of claims would be paid (adapted from Cummins et al., 1999). PML benchmarks are from GAO (2000).

Coastal zones are among the most highly valued recreational areas and are primary tourist destinations. Houston (1996) estimates that 85% of all tourist revenues in the United States are earned by coastal states, and there are as many as 180 million recreational visitors to U.S. coasts every year (Boesch et al., 2000). Sea-level rise in beach areas backed by seawalls or other development that precludes landward migration would lead to loss of beach area through inundation or erosion and pose an increased threat to the recreation infrastructure concentrated along the coast (sea-front resorts, marinas, piers, etc.). Beach nourishment is widely used to protect highly valued recreational beaches. One study estimates that this adaptation strategy would cost US$14-21 billion to preserve major U.S. recreational beaches from a 50-cm sea-level rise (Wall, 1998c). Furthermore, impacts to ecologically important wetlands and coral reefs also could have major implications for sport fishing and diving-related tourism activities in coastal regions. The risk to coastal recreation is most prominent in warm-weather destinations in the southern United States and small island nations in the Caribbean (see Chapter 17 and Section, where tourism is a leading sector of the economy.

Intersectoral resource competition also may become more pronounced, particularly with respect to water resources. Climate change scenarios for the Trent-Severn Waterway (Walker, 1996) indicate that regulation of flows for adequate downstream municipal demand would diminish the recreational boating industry, with attendant impacts for riparian recreational home property values. Increased municipal and agricultural water demand in arid regions may outweigh development of new golf courses and, in severe cases, diminish the capacity to irrigate existing facilities economically. Like declining resource availability and quality, increased resource competition may constrain the opportunities afforded by a longer recreational season.

Two main groups can be considered with respect to the potential to adapt to climate change: participants themselves and businesses and communities that cater to them. The former may be able to adapt to climate change much more readily than the latter, which are more likely to have large amounts of capital invested in fixed locations. The effect of and potential for substitution as an adaptive strategy, including locations (beach, ski resort), preferred species (coldwater vs. warmwater fish), and recreational activities broadly (skiing to mountain hiking, snowmobile to all-terrain vehicle use, golf to sailing) require more detailed investigation.

Tourism and recreation are not regarded as major net generators of greenhouse gases (except, perhaps, in the travel phase), but GHG reduction policies (e.g., carbon taxes) may increase the cost of travel, with substantial implications for destination areas (particularly isolated destinations with little domestic tourism demand).

Improvement in climate change projections, although helpful, will be insufficient to improve understanding of the implications of climate change for tourism and recreation. Even if climate change could be reliably forecast now, it is doubtful if the industry has sufficient understanding of its sensitivity to climatic variability to plan rationally for future conditions. Furthermore, the salience of climate change versus other long-term influencing variables in this sector (globalization and economic fluctuations, fuel prices, aging populations in industrialized countries, increasing travel safety and health concerns, increased environmental and cultural awareness, advances in information and transportation technology, environmental limitations—water supply and pollution) remains a critical source of uncertainty.

Global climate change will present challenges and opportunities for recreational industries and destination areas. The net economic impact of altered competitive relationships within the tourism and recreation sector is highly uncertain. Studies by Mendelsohn and Markowski (1999) and Loomis and Crespi (1999) attempt to put an economic value on climate change impacts in the United States. Although these were pioneering efforts, the assumptions and methods employed limit the confidence that can be placed in the findings. Until systematic national-level analyses of economically important recreation industries and integrated sectoral assessments for major tourism regions have been completed, there will be insufficient confidence in the magnitude of potential economic impacts to report a range (based on disparate climate, social, technical, and economic assumptions) of possible implications for this sector.

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