Tourism is one of the most promising drivers of growth for the world economy. The sheer size and reach of the sector makes it critically important from a global resource perspective. Even small changes toward greening can have important impacts. Furthermore, the sectors’ connection to numerous sectors at destination and international levels means that changes in practices can stimulate changes in many different public and private actors.

Like all industries, the tourism industry can have adverse environmental, economic and social effects. These impacts are mostly linked with the construction and management of infrastructures such as roads and airports, and of tourism facilities, including resorts, hotels, restaurants, shops, golf courses, and marinas. Ill-managed tourism can put enormous pressure on an area and lead to soil erosion, increased air, soil and marine pollution, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. It often puts a strain on fresh water resources, leading also to users’ conflicts between tourist-related and local consumption. Finally, CO2 emissions related to air transport in particular, with its growth forecast, poses a major problem in terms of sustainability: in particular for distant destinations, despite the known environmental impacts, air travel expansion is a necessary condition for economic development.

On the other hand, tourism has the potential to contribute to environmental protection and poverty reduction by capitalising on biodiversity assets; to increase public appreciation of the environment and to spread awareness of environmental problems bringing people into closer contact with nature and the environment. Because of their tourism potential, many natural areas are now legally protected. Finally, sustainable tourism businesses can be promoted as sustainable alternative livelihood opportunities in areas where current economic activities have detrimental effects on the host environment but where biodiversity and cultural assets could be a source of income.

If efficiently planned and managed, tourism could become an ally and a supportive economic and political force for conservation. That is the aim of promoting sustainable tourism or tourism that is compatible with sustainable development.

The Tourism and Environment Programme

Aware of and concerned about the negative environmental and social impacts of tourism, as well as the opportunities it offers, Ministers of the Environment have decided to give due consideration to this major issue with the aim of creating the adequate policy context to make the tourism industry sustainable. To that end, UNEP has been appointed by the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) as the Interagency Coordinator or lead agency responsible for implementation of Agenda 21 issues on tourism. Together with the World Tourism Organization, UNEP is the main focal point on sustainable tourism for CSD and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Our mission: To mainstream sustainability into tourism development by demonstrating the economic, environmental, and socio-cultural benefits of sustainable tourism.

The strategic focuses of our work

  • Support the integration of sustainability in tourism development policies
  • Support to governments and other institutional stakeholders in the local regional and international level
  • Promote sustainable production patterns in the tourism value chain
  • Cooperation with the tourism industry (Hotels, tour operators, transportation industry, etc.)
  • Encourage demand for "sustainable tourism services"
  • Consumer based activities. Cooperation with NGOs having programmes on sustainable tourism

Recommended Links:



The Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism


Towards a Green Economy


Green Passport Campaign