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Europe Leads Euromonitor International’s Sustainable Travel Index

Caroline Bremner Profile Picture
Caroline Bremner Bio

Climate change is the biggest threat to people and planet, and poses a significant existential threat to the future of travel and tourism, with this industry accounting for 8% of global carbon emissions. If travel and tourism were a country, it would rank third behind the US and China in terms of the scale of its emissions.

According to Euromonitor International’s latest Sustainable Travel Index, Europe held the top 20 positions in 2021, shaped by the EU Green Deal that aims for the region to be carbon neutral by 2050. The EU’s Green Deal is a pioneering example of creating a legislative framework based on common goals in transitioning to a green, circular economy.

Sealing the Deal is the aim to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, taking a staggered approach, as per the Paris Agreement, by initially reducing carbon emissions by 60% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. There are several areas to the Deal covering climate, energy, agriculture, industry, environment and oceans, transport, finance and regional development, along with research and innovation.

Sustainable Travel Index Ranking 2021

Sustainable Travel Index Ranking 2021Source: Euromonitor International
Note: Rank 1 is highest.

Sweden continues to set the pace of change

Sweden is the leading country in the Sustainable Travel Index, setting the bar when it comes to sustainability on a national scale; it has enshrined in law that it will achieve climate neutrality with net zero emissions by 2045.

Sweden ranks within the top 20 across the seven pillars of the index, performing particularly well for risk and sustainable tourism demand. It had an outstanding performance in the environmental sustainability pillar, jumping 24 positions in 2021, and made the most progress in economic sustainability with a highly digitalised society, lower debt and increased productivity post-pandemic.

Sweden as a destination offers a wide range of green and eco-chic travel experiences – from forests and lakes, Arctic adventures, foraging, indigenous Sami culture, oyster safaris, the Northern Lights to timber rafting – in a country where there is complete freedom to roam. The country also has an astounding 30 National Parks.

Sweden even has its own eco-tourism charter, following in Australia’s footsteps, with Nature’s Best certified travel operators and 23 cities claiming to be carbon neutral through the Viable Cities programme by 2030.

Sweden’s Performance in the Sustainable Travel Index Pillars 2021Sweden's Performance in the Sustainable Travel Index Pillars 2021Source: Euromonitor International
Note: Rank 1 is highest

Window of opportunity is closing, transport needs to play its part

However, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report paints a dire picture of the risks from climate change. Nature’s tolerance thresholds have already been exceeded, resulting in mass extinctions of species, trees and coral as biodiversity loss has been accelerated by extreme weather events. The IPCC report spells out that the window for action is closing regarding our ability to ensure that global warming does not exceed 1.5C, necessary to avoid the worst-case scenario of the escalating climate emergency.

To this end, sustainable urban mobility solutions are integral to achieving the EU’s targets, with transport accounting for 25% of the EU’s total emissions. The aim is to dramatically reduce its transport emissions by 90% by 2050.

Among key proposals, besides digitalisation and improved ticketing options thanks to interoperability, the region is investing in and improving its cross-border and long-distance rail and waterway infrastructure. Currently, only 7% of rail journeys are cross-border, despite rail accounting for just 0.4% of the region’s transport emissions.

European countries currently dominate the sustainable transport pillar of the index, but clearly there is much more work to be done to decarbonise travel and transport in the region.

The Trans-European Network (TEN-T) covers 424 cities, with 15 cross-border rail pilots to be set up by 2030, doubling high-speed rail by then and tripling high-speed rail capacity by 2050, including Hamburg to Copenhagen. A key north-south corridor is also planned for Eastern Europe from Helsinki to Warsaw. Such forward-looking steps will help Europe to maintain its first-mover position in sustainable travel and tourism.

Sustainable Transport Rankings 2021Sustainable Transport Rankings 2021Source: Euromonitor International
Note: Rank 1 is highest; sustainable transport accounts for 20% of the Sustainable Travel Index

For further information on Euromonitor’s Sustainable Travel Index, please contact Caroline Bremner, Senior Head of Travel Research;

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