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Net Zero explained – setting climate goals

By Hugh Felton, 16th January 2023

In this article, Travelife for Accommodation explains the concept of Net Zero and how to get started with setting climate goals.

Global targets

At the 2015 United Nations climate change summit in Paris (COP21) virtually every country pledged to constrain their greenhouse gas emissions, with the aim of keeping global warming well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C. The Intergovernmental panel on climate change, the IPCC, the UN body responsible for providing information on climate change, has said to limit warming to 1.5°C CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.

Understanding the term ‘Net Zero’

The IPCC strongly advises that we must reach net zero by around 2050. But what does the term ‘reaching net zero’ mean? In summary, net zero is when the amount of carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken away. For us to meet the net zero goals as set out by the IPCC, we will all need to significantly reduce our absolute emissions and find ways to sequester (take away or take out) any residual or leftover carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, so there’s no net increase in CO2.

The climate change priority

Carbon and climate change are of increasing importance for hotels and travel businesses. There is increased legislation, pressure from investors and lenders, reputational risk as well as increasing consumer expectations. For example, a 2022 survey by ABTA, the UK travel association, shows that 44% of consumers would choose one hotel over another if it had a better track record on sustainability[1]. The increasing climate stress on tourism destinations is well documented and includes disruptions caused by extreme weather events, such as floods and forest fires, water scarcity, and coral bleaching to name just a few. However, it is important to remember the associated humanitarian impact of these changes on local communities, and the extensive supply chain required to deliver holidays, provide jobs and security.

The tourism industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions

The scientific journal Nature Climate Change says that pre-COVID-19, the global tourism industry had been estimated to produce 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, from a hotel perspective, a 2008 UNEP/UNWTO study estimated tourism accommodation emissions accounted for 20% of tourism’s carbon emissions. A breakdown is provided below:

  • Air (40%)
  • Car (32%)
  • Other transport (3%)
  • Accommodation – heating, air-conditioning and the maintenance of bars, restaurants, pools (20%)
  • Activities – museums, theme parks, events or shopping (4%)

Taking action and setting goals


You may have read about ‘decarbonising’. Simply put, this means operating in ways that emit less carbon into the atmosphere. To reduce our emissions, it is important to first understand what our carbon footprint is by measuring the emissions you are directly responsible for. This is usually from electricity use (scope 2 emissions) and any other type of fuel you consume at your business (scope 1 emissions). You should also consider emissions in your supply chain that can be measured and reduced. These are referred to as scope 3 emissions and cover activities such as business travel and waste management. The consultancy firm Deloitte provides a useful and clear summary of what is meant by scope 1,2 and 3 emissions.

Travelife hotels will soon be able to use our new environmental performance management tool that allows them to upload consumption data about energy, water and waste that is automatically calculated to show their carbon equivalent emissions. We expect to launch this groundbreaking tool later in 2023 as part of our certification software, allowing all properties to easily measure and monitor their emissions.


Once you understand your footprint, you can set reduction targets. Many UK travel businesses have already set reduction targets and have committed to reducing their scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions from a 2018 base year. Additionally, companies are starting to commit to reducing scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions from their operations by working with their suppliers. The consultancy firm Deloitte provides a useful and clear summary of what is meant by scope 1,2 and 3 emissions.

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has launched a net zero standard, providing an independent assessment of corporate net zero target setting. Companies adopting the Standard will be required to set both near and long-term science-based targets across Scopes 1, 2 and 3.

Offsets and removals

Where businesses cannot reduce emissions any further, offsetting the remaining emissions to achieve net zero can be a viable short-term solution. However, any offsets used should be reputable and actually remove carbon from the atmosphere by using verifiable methods. It is advisable to use offsets as an interim measure and to look for reputable schemes that have been accredited by the verification standards, such as the Gold Standard and VCS.

It is fair to say that there is a certain level of distrust towards offsets in terms of whether they actually lead to additional reductions. Offsets alone are not enough yet there is evidence showing that credible schemes can play an important role when applied as part of a broader strategy that puts the reduction of emissions ahead of any offsetting. Offsets also serve to finance activities for tackling climate change, introducing an additional financial incentive to reduce emissions and broadly encourage the measurement of emissions.

Time to act!

The travel and tourism industry has considered sustainability within its dialogue and activities for some time, but it’s time for the talk to be translated into concerted action. The demand for travel and tourism shows no signs of decreasing and the sector now faces significant challenges around abating emissions. As other sectors continue to quickly progress their emission reduction, pressure on the tourism industry will continue to heighten. The time to act is now.

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