A Sustainable Tourism for the Protection of Biodiversity

Author: PCMI

A Sustainable Tourism for the Protection of Biodiversity

Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Under the theme of "Tourism and Biodiversity" proposed by the World Tourism Organization, World Tourism Day hopes to offer its contribution to 2010's "International Year for Biological Diversity", declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

This proclamation was born of the deep concern for "the social, economic, environmental and cultural implications of the loss of biodiversity, including negative impacts on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and stressing the necessity to adopt concrete measures in order to reverse it".1

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, refers to the great wealth of beings that live on Earth, as well as the delicate equilibrium of interdependence and interaction that exists between them and the physical environment that hosts and conditions them. This biodiversity is translated into different ecosystems, of which examples can be found in forests, wetlands, savannahs, jungles, deserts, coral reefs, mountains, seas and polar zones.

There are three imminent and grave dangers to them that require an urgent solution: climate change, desertification and the loss of biodiversity. The latter has been developing in recent years at an unprecedented rate. Recent studies indicate that on a worldwide level 22% of mammals, 31% of amphibians, 13.6% of bird life and 27% of reefs are threatened or in danger of extinction.2

There are numerous areas of human activity that largely contribute to these changes, and one of them is, without a doubt, tourism, which is among those activities that have experienced great and rapid growth. In this regard, we can look to the statistics that the World Tourism Organization offers us. With international tourist travel numbering 534 million in 1995 and 682 million in 2000, estimates from the organization's "Tourism 2020 Vision" report are 1.006 billion for the year 2010 and reaching 1.561 billion in 2020, at an average annual growth rate of 4.1%.3 And to these statistics of international tourism one would have to add the even more important internal tourism numbers. All of this points to strong growth in this economic sector, which brings with it some major effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and the consequent danger of their transformation into serious environmental impacts — especially in regard to the exorbitant consumption of limited resources (such as potable water and land) and the enormous generation of pollution and residues, exceeding the quantities that might be withstood by a determined area.

The situation is seen to be aggravated by the fact that tourist demand directs itself more and more towards natural destinations, attracted by their beauty, which leads to a major impact on the populations visited, on their economies, on their cultural heritage and on the environment. This fact can actually either be a harmful element or, on the contrary, contribute significantly and in a positive way to the conservation of the heritage. In this way tourism lives a paradox. If on the one hand it emerges and grows thanks to the attraction of some natural and cultural sites, on the other hand the very same tourism can become detrimental and even destructive, and as such the tourism sites end up being rejected as destinations for not possessing their original attraction.

For all of this, we must assert that tourism cannot relieve itself of its responsibility to defend biodiversity. On the contrary rather, it must assume an active role in it. This economic sector's development inevitably needs to be accompanied by the principles of sustainability and respect for biological diversity.

The international community has concerned itself seriously with these matters, and on this theme it has made reiterated proclamations.4 The Church would like to add her voice, from the space which is hers, beginning from the conviction that she herself "has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction".5 Without entering into the question of concrete technical solutions, that would go beyond her competency, the Church concerns herself with drawing attention to the relationship between the Creator, the human being and creation.6 Church teaching reiterates insistently the responsibility of the human being in the preservation of an integral and healthy environment for all, from the conviction that the "care for the environment represents a challenge for all of humanity. It is a matter of a common and universal duty, that of respecting a common good"7

As Pope Benedict XVI points out in his Encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, "in nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation",8 and whose use represents for us "a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole".9 For this tourism must be respectful of the environment, looking to reach a perfect harmony with creation, so as to guarantee the sustainability of the resources on which it depends, while not leading to irreversible ecological transformations.

Contact with nature is important and therefore tourism must make an effort to respect and value the beauty of creation, from the conviction that "many people experience peace and tranquility, renewal and reinvigoration, when they come into close contact with the beauty and harmony of nature. There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us".10

There is an element that makes even this effort more imperative than ever. In the search for God, the human being discovers ways to bring himself closer to the Mystery, which has creation as a starting point.11 Nature and biological diversity speak to us of God Creator, He that makes himself present in His creation, "for from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen (Wis 13:5), "for the original source of beauty fashioned them" (Wis. 13:3). This is why the world, in its diversity, "presents itself before man's eyes as evidence of God, the place where his creative, providential and redemptive power unfolds".12

For this reason, tourism, bringing us closer to creation in its variety and wealth, can be an occasion to promote and increase the religious experience.

All of this makes looking for a balance between tourism and biological diversity, in which they mutually support each other, urgent and necessary,so that economic development and environmental protection do not appear as opposed and incompatible elements, but rather that there is a tendency to reconcile the demands of both.13

Efforts to protect and promote biological diversity in its relation with tourism are developed, firstly, through participative and shared strategies, in which the implied diverse sectors are involved. The majority of governments, international institutions, professional associations of the tourist sector and
non-governmental organizations defend, with a long-term vision, the necessity of sustainable tourism as the only possible form in order for their development to simultaneously be economically profitable, protect natural and cultural resources and serve as a real help in the fight against poverty.

Public authorities must offer clear legislation that protects and fortifies biodiversity, reinforcing the benefits and reducing the costs of tourism, while at the same time ensuring the fulfillment of norms.14 This must surely be accompanied by a major investment in planning and education. Governments efforts will need to be great in those places which are most vulnerable and where the
degradation is greater. Perhaps in some of them, tourism should be restricted or even avoided.

For its part, the business sector of tourism is asked to "conceive, develop and conduct their businesses minimizing negative effects on, and positively contributing to, the conservation of sensitive ecosystems and the environment in general, and directly benefiting and including local and indigenous communities".15 For this, it would be convenient to carry out a priori studies of the sustainability of each tourism product, shedding light on the real, positive contributions as well as potential risks, from the conviction that the sector cannot seek the objective of maximum benefit at any cost.16

Finally, tourists must be conscious that their presence in a place is not always positive. With this end, they must be informed of the real benefits that the conservation of biodiversity brings with it, and be educated in methods of sustainable tourism. Likewise, tourists should demand tourist business proposals that truly contribute to the development of the place. In no case, neither the land nor the historical-cultural heritage of the destination should be damaged in favor of the tourist, adapting itself to their tastes and desires. A major effort, in a special way the pastoral care of tourism must realize, is the education in contemplation, that helps to tourists have the ability to discover the sign of God in the great wealth of biodiversity.

In this way, from the hand of a tourism that develops in harmony with creation, it will be made possible that in the heart of the tourist the praise of the psalmist is repeated, "O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!" (Ps 8:2).

Vatican City, 24 June 2010


Archbishop Secretary


1 United Nations, Resolution A/RES/61/203 adopted by the General Assembly, 20 December 2006.

2 Cf. J.-C. Vié, C. Hilton-Taylor and S. N. Stuart (eds.). Wildlife in a Changing World. An analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Gland, Switzerland, 2009, p. 18: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-2009-001.pdf

3 Cf. http://www.unwto.org/facts/eng/vision.htm

4 A first document to review is the Charter for Sustainable Tourism, adopted during the "World Conference on Sustainable Tourism", celebrated in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, from 27-28 April 1995. Together, the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the Earth Council Alliance produced the report Agenda 21 for Tourism and Travel Industry: Towards an Environmentally Sustainable Development in 1996, which translates the UN's Agenda 21 into a program of action for tourism for the promotion of sustainable development (and was adopted in the Earth Summit that was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro in 1992). Another significant reference is the Berlin Declaration, the conclusive document of the "International Conference on Biodiversity and Tourism", which took place in the German capital from 6-8 March 1997. This document may possibly be the most important contribution, due to its elaboration, influence, diffusion and signatories. Several months later, the Manila declaration on Social Impact of Tourism was signed, in which the importance of a series of principles in favor of sustainability in tourism were highlighted. As a fruit of the "World Ecotourism Summit", organized in May of 2002 by the WTO, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Quebec Declaration on Ecotourism was published. Within the framework of the "Convention on Biological Diversity", in 2004 the Guidelines on Biodiversity and Tourism Development were edited. To all these documents of an international nature one must add the numerous guides and summaries of good practices that the WTO has published in regard to this theme, and among which could be highlighted the so-titled Making Tourism More Sustainable: A Guide for Policy Makers, edited in 2005 in collaboration with the UNEP.

5 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 51: L'Osservatore Romano, 8 July 2009, p. 5.

6 Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the celebration of 43rd World Day of Peace, 8 December 2009, n. 4: ORE, n. 290 (45.333), 16 December 2009, p. 8.

7 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2004, n. 466. See John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, n. 40: ORE, 6 May 1991, p. 5.

8 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 48, loc. cit., p. 684.


10 Benedict , Message for the celebration of 43rd World Day of Peace, 2010, n. 13, loc. cit., p. 10.

11 Cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1997, n. 31, loc. cit.

12 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 487, loc. cit.

13 Cf. ibid., n. 470.

14 Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, n. 50, loc. cit., p. 14.

15 World Ecotourism Summit, Final Report. Qubec Declaration on Ecotourism, 22 May 2002, World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, Madrid 2002, recommendation 21.

16 Cf. World Tourism Organization, Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, 1 October 1999, art. 3 §4: http://www.unwto.org/ethics/fulltext/en/full_text.php?subop=2

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
4 August 2010, page 4

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