Live the deal, UNWTO executive says

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eTN: How are you, Geoffrey? How is Copenhagen?
Geoffrey Lipman: I think it’s probably better than people are saying, if you know what I mean.

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eTN: How are you, Geoffrey? How is Copenhagen?
Geoffrey Lipman: I think it’s probably better than people are saying, if you know what I mean.

eTN: Kyoto to Davos to Bali, now Copenhagen. How about a progress report?
Geoffrey: First of all this is not about tourism; I keep saying this. This is about everything. The progress report is more Kyoto to Bali to Poznan to here. This is a big picture and UN-led global efforts, G20, G77, China – we have to do something to replace Kyoto when it runs out in 2012, and it’s a global issue. And the issue boils around maybe 3 or 4 things. One, the science says that we have to keep the Earth’s temperature stable, which means that global warming has to peak in the next 10 years, more or less, and it has to stabilize at no more than 2 degrees higher than it is today by 2050.

eTN: And what measures are being proposed to get this accomplished?
Geoffrey: If I may, I’m sorry, to take that into its place, that’s what all the big science is being argued about at the moment. The IPPC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the link telegrams – all of this is around – are we right to be going for that global figure? And everything here, including what the IPPC reiterates is, that’s the figure; we are sticking with it. A lot of these things which are happening, they are relatively explicable, but the bottom line is, there is wide-spread belief that there is a man-made impact, and if we don’t try to deal with it, the cost down the line is going to be dramatically higher, and we might miss the tipping point. That’s the big picture – why they’re here.

eTN: What is your take on Copenhagen so far?
Geoffrey: I am going to give you 2 more points, and then I’ll answer that. The second big issue is how do you get to that – to that 2 degrees? And that’s where all of these numbers are coming up – that all countries have to come into Kyoto. The success is to Kyoto, because the original Kyoto only dealt with the developed countries. And even then, not everybody ratified it, and many did not achieve the targets that they set in Kyoto. I just don’t want to bore you with all of these figures – I’m trying to give you a big picture. And what we’ve had is a game plan that came together in Bali, if you remember. And there has been 11 meetings since that time of the parties to try to hammer out the sort of framework for the successor. Eleven meetings in 2 years is a massive amount of international discussion. And with a couple of kind of exceptions, this doesn’t say, and tourism is important because of… The only thing that’s most specific is that they left out of the aviation and the maritime transport, and every indication is that in any future agreement, they are going to be brought into it. So that’s an important piece, because that transports the key components of tourism. But mostly, there’s nobody sitting around here saying, oh, what about the tourism elements? So that’s the big picture. Now the question is, where are we in the negotiations? I think the one point I want to make is that it doesn’t matter what international negotiations you have so long as there are negotiations, when you are in the middle of them, people are sort of positioning themselves. Nobody tells you the end game in the middle of negotiations. They save the end game until the end, not surprisingly.

eTN: Do you think the summit itself has been framed properly?
Geoffrey: I personally believe it’s been completed framed properly, because the other element that’s in the big picture – the third numbers piece – is the one that says, how much money is going to be given to the poorer countries so they can adapt their systems? So I would say, at the moment, there are these 3 or 4 big issues, and it’s been framed correctly, and I believe they will reach an agreement on, not all the details, but they’ll reach what they are calling a political agreement on the strategic policy framework for this, and they’ll give themselves a little while beyond to come to terms on the details of the numbers. This is my personal belief, and this is personal, there will be enough in the pot when America arrives; there will be enough put into the pot for adaptation for the poor countries. The poor countries will go along with what is being proposed, because it’s more very much towards their needs. This idea of a US$10 billion a year adaptation fund for the next 3 years – that’s US$30 billion – it’s beginning to be serious money.

eTN: And where is this money going to come from?
Geoffrey: It will come from individual countries, and it will come from the World Bank and from the institutions, and it will maybe be matched from the private sector.

eTN: But what about the major polluters, the bigger countries that are the main cause of these climate changes? Are they contributing anything to the fund?
Geoffrey: That’s a political issue, Nelson. I’m not as passionate about this as you. I’m being objective and dispassionate. The major polluters are the ones who are going to have to pay the most significant amount, if they are developed countries. We also know that in the United States, there’s congressional resistance to some of this, and this is a political reality. We also know that China is becoming one of the larger greenhouse gas contributors, and China has a very distinct position that it’s prepared to reduce the intensity of carbon in its output, it’s GDP output, but it’s not prepared to sort of reduce the levels of carbon at this stage of its development. Now these are all issues I can say, I believe the parties will find an understanding on the framework, but not the detailed numbers.

eTN: Some have deemed the summit to be a failure and is a fluke, because many of the major polluters have expressed that they are not going to participate or are not taking the summit seriously. Has this been the case?
Geoffrey: No, I don’t believe that. I see no evidence. I see absolutely serious negotiations, I see an absolutely brilliant support system by UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), and I see the UN system. We had a session tonight with [UN secretary-general] Ban Ki-moon and the heads of 20-odd agencies – complete support and solidarity behind the process. I think there are some very responsible countries out there, but they have to deal also with their domestic realities, and I can’t wave a wand and say this I how they will do it, but my personal belief is they are going to reach an understanding, which will make this summit a very important meeting on the way to replacing Kyoto in 2012 and other supporting pieces.

eTN: You brought this up. Many of the less developed countries, even the continent of Africa, want compensation for the impacts of climate change. Is this just survival, and do you think it can really happen?
Geoffrey: I, myself, believe that the issue of “compensation” is a very difficult issue to address. There are different perceptions of what the compensation is for; there are different perceptions of how it should be allocated and who should get it. But the one thing on which there seems to be agreement is that a fund should be created, which will help the poorest countries to adapt. And there’s a general feeling, there’s a minimum – it’s US$10 billion a year for 3 years. I think that’s a pretty good start.

eTN: Africa has a specific figure. I don’t know what it is at the moment, but they were pretty much adamant in bringing that to the summit, and I’m not sure how successful they have been.
Geoffrey: They are right to bring it, but it’s a negotiation, and at the end of the day, I think the end product will be an agreed solution between the major powers, the big countries, the G20s, and the G77 has to be at the table and agree, China and India have to be at the table and agree, but I believe that process is working quite well at the moment.

eTN: That’s good. I’ve read through UNWTO’s “From Davos to Copenhagen and Beyond: Advancing Tourism’s Response to Climate Change” background paper. It’s quite comprehensive, and definitely a long read. Can you point out the major issues that you want the travel and tourism industry to know?
Geoffrey: I think the first thing to know is that WTO has had its feet at the table, has followed very carefully these big political developments and has made a point of making sure in the UN system that tourism, there is the recognition of the important role of tourism – that’s point number one. Point number two, we have held very inclusionary process in Davos. Everybody was there, including civil society, media, and a set of recommendations came out of Davos, and I think UNWTO is seeking to remind people that they have to relate these recommendations to what’s coming out of Copenhagen, plus, if you like, because not everything’s going to be signed up here. And UNWTO is saying, particularly secretary general Taleb Rifai is saying now, parts of our job and our mandate is to make sure that we are protecting the interest of the industry in the UN systems we … for this whole thing. And the side event that UNWTO is doing with WTTC, is designed to demonstrate that these organizations and others are intending to work together on this area, as well as other areas.

eTN: The private entity, like the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), how have they played into this Copenhagen climate change summit?
Geoffrey: They’ve got their feet at the table; they are there like civil society in a way, but linking with WTO makes a public-private kind of initiative, and more importantly, the members of WTTC will be, and are, amongst the readers in this whole area. The big Marriotts have taken, as you remember from the WTTC meeting, they have that huge swatch of rainforests that they’re supporting. Others … do fantastic stuff when it comes to carbon reduction and neutralizing climate change. And there’s many people out there, so WTTC members do have a role. WTTC is the expression of its members.

eTN: There is a document from called “Live the Deal.” Do you know anything about it?
Geoffrey: Yep. That’s my initiative. That’s my personal initiative incubating with a number of other people, incubated in UNWTO with the support of Rifai, but an initiative which is going to be – I’m calling it a “MANGO.” Do you know what a mango is? Not a fruit. If you go to Wikipedia, they say there is a thing called a Market Adjustment Non-Government Organization.

eTN: Who came up with that acronym?
Geoffrey: That’s what I’ve set up with a campaign called “Live the Deal,” and the idea of the campaign is to say to the tourism sector, there is going to be a result coming out of Copenhagen, or Copenhagen and whatever meetings follow, and we want the travel industry – individual companies and communities – to sign up to achieving the same reductions as their governments sign up to in the deal. So, if the United States signs up to a reduction of minus, or let’s say a European country – we know that’s going to happen – signs up to minus 20 by 2020, we want tourism companies in Europe to sign up to at least that same deal at minimum, and we will provide tools with which they can report and review their footprints and can measure what their footprint is and how it changes from year to year. And the bottom line is so that they can maintain their commitment to do at least as good as what we are proposing to do.

eTN: What organization is going to be overseeing this?
Geoffrey: It’s a new organization that I have created, and we are going to use 3rd parties, reputable 3rd parties, inside and outside the travel sector in the carbon assessment and carbon measurement area, and we are going to produce with them a mechanism, and that mechanism is going to be sold at a very low price to the tourism sector.

eTN: Describe this mechanism that you are talking about.
Geoffrey: Take, for an example, eTurboNews is in the travel business. You do a lot of traveling – you, Thomas, all the other people on your team. You have a carbon footprint. We will give you an online tool which allows you to measure your carbon footprint. Many other people have similar tools, but the one that we will give you starting beginning of next year, because we need time to absorb what the government deal really is and to find ways of tracking a country, I mean, not to find ways, but you have to pick it up country by country, and that will be a part of the dashboard, what you are getting, when you sign up to be with the deal. And we have expert companies who are there to provide advice and that kind of thing as people move forward on this.

eTN: Has it already been launched?
Geoffrey: The concept has been launched on Monday, here in Copenhagen. And what will happen is that between now and the beginning of the year, we will have time to look at the publicly-available documents on what governments are committed to, and we will start to populate a data base of government commitments. And that will allow the, you know, if you get your form online, it will be closely indicated, what your government has agreed to or is in the process of agreeing to, so you will be able to do a regular check, and then we will produce annual reports, profile champions, all that sort of thing.

eTN: How do you plan to break through governments, because normally they are the last ones to come on board?
Geoffrey: First of all, I have the full support of WTO. If you go to their web site, they are running the video.

eTN: WTO as in World Tourism Organization or World Trade Organization?
Geoffrey: World Tourism Organization – UNWTO. You can also see the neat little animated video that we’ve made. Remember the one that was done by the singer platinum disk star Alston Koch? We’ve made this all myself, and if you say, well, where does that come from, apart from the fact that I don’t really want my wife to know, that’s coming from my pocket. I’m launching this thing, because I really believe it is the time to do it.

eTN: How has it been received; it’s been, what, 3 days?
Geoffrey: It went up and within 17 minutes, it was the most searched guru travel thing. If you look at Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)’s press release, you couldn’t have got a better endorsement than what we got from PATA. WTO has a press release out on this, and you couldn’t get a better endorsement than Rifai saying this is the kind of mechanism we want to support.

eTN: So are you, yourself, separating from the UNWTO system?
Geoffrey: At the end of the year, I am going to become advisor again as I was for Frangialli before moving to Madrid, and I will become advisor to Rifai. And I will work on the economy, and the T20 initiative, and those things that I have heavily been engaged in. I’ll do it half time, and I’ll do it from Brussels rather than Madrid.

eTN: What’s going to happen to your position? Is there going to be a deputy secretary?
Geoffrey: No. You know, what they announced in Kazakhstan was – no deputy and no assistant secretary general, and they’ll vote in 3 executive directors. And the executive directors will take over reporting directly to UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai.

eTN: Geoffrey, is there anything else that you want to add to this interview?
Geoffrey: I really want to say Nelson, and first of all, is I appreciate very much, and I’m sincere about this, the instant support that came from Thomas and from eTurbo. What I see here is something which is a potentially valuable thing for the industry as a whole – accommodation, transport, because it’s going to give a very simple way to measure the carbon footprint and a very simple way, very good graphics, online stuff – we are partnering with a company to do this.

I am counting on you, Nelson. The other thing I want to say to you, whether this is on the record or off the record, is in the blurb that I put out. I think it’s time, there are people out there who are coherently arguing in this area. You know, you hear things like whether there will be linkages between this and other mechanisms. This is going to be a lowest common denominator, and it won’t interfere with what any of the other people who are out there providing services; it’s not going to try interfere with them. But we are not going to be doing the same thing. We are not going to be directly helping anybody make that transformation. Indirectly, a big part of what we do going forward will be to keep the focus on new technology and other renewables and techniques that can help people get their carbon footprint down. And we will revamp our web site so that people can readily see and get that information.

eTN: I think it’s a good idea, and I wish you luck on the project.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.