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Mangrove plant

What Is Blue Carbon and Why Does It Matter?

Though terrestrial forests typically get most of the attention, they are not the only ecosystems that possess a natural ability to fight climate change. There are three coastal ecosystems that are also highly effective at sequestering carbon dioxide: mangroves, seagrass, and salt marshes. The carbon that is captured and stored by these coastal ecosystems is known as “blue carbon.” Pound for pound, these blue carbon ecosystems can actually store up to 10 times more carbon than tropical rainforests!

Vote for the next carbon neutral island destination

We are currently leading a project to help Palau become the world’s first carbon neutral destination. In doing so, we are mitigating tourism’s carbon footprint, boosting climate resilience, improving local livelihoods, empowering women, and preserving this pristine paradise for future generations.  Now, we want to know: which island should be next?
Palau ocean and land view

Palau: Carbon Neutral Tourism Destination

The Pacific Island nation of Palau is a tiny, yet remarkable country characterized by surreal landscapes, pristine seas, and a long cultural history. The archipelago is made up of more than 340 lush green islands jutting out from the glimmering ocean, only nine of which are inhabited.

Remote Palau island

Remote and Secluded

Palau is truly a hidden island paradise. The archipelago is surrounded on all sides by the vast Pacific Ocean and is located 400 miles north of Papua New Guinea, 550 miles east of the Philippines, and 800 miles southwest of Guam.

Pristine Marine Wonders

Palau’s waters teem with an abundance of marine life including over 500 species of coral and 1,300 types of fish. Thanks to its incredible natural beauty and biodiversity, Palau is considered to be one of the world’s top diving destinations.

Woman kayaking in Palau

Dependent on Tourism

In 2019, 90,000 tourists visited Palau. That’s five times the islands’ population. Tourism is the country’s main source of income and provides vital jobs for local people. In total, it accounts for nearly a third of Palau’s GDP.

Commitment to Sustainability

Though Palau may be tiny, it is bursting with big, bold ambitions. Environmental stewardship has always been the way of the Palauan people who know that their country’s future depends on healthy reefs, jungles, and beaches.

Issues

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Vulnerability to Climate Change

As a remote island nation, Palau is extremely vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. Rising sea levels and intensified tropical cyclones threaten to destroy houses, beaches, and infrastructure. Coral bleaching and acidic waters endanger the marine life that tourists come to see. Climate change is also expected to disrupt global supply chains, leading to food insecurity.

Learn more about how climate change is impacting destinations. 

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Carbon Footprint of Tourism

Tourism depends heavily on fossil fuels and produces emissions that contribute to the climate crisis. Consider the carbon footprint of a vacation to Palau. Getting to the remote islands typically requires flying thousands of miles. Once in Palau, tourists generate CO2 by going on boat rides, turning up the AC, eating imported foods, and engaging in other activities.

Learn more about the activities that contribute to tourism’s carbon footprint. 

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Reliance on Imported Food

Palau’s hotels and restaurants rely on overseas imports to feed their guests. In fact, 85-90% of the country’s food is imported from abroad. The importation of food and drinks produces carbon emissions and causes dollars to leave the local economy. Imported foods also tend to be more packaged and processed which contributes to waste management and health problems. 

OUR ROLE

Palau Carbon Neutral Destination Program

With climate change a very real threat to Palau’s existence, Sustainable Travel International is implementing a project in partnership with Slow Food and the Palau Bureau of Tourism to help the archipelago become the world’s first carbon neutral destination. The project will combat climate change and boost community resilience by:

  • Neutralizing tourism’s carbon footprint
  • Improving the livelihoods of local food producers
  • Increasing local food security
  • Empowering women to participate more fully in the tourism value chain
  • Conserving coastal ecosystems that act as carbon sinks
  • Reducing food waste and building a circular economy

Our Approach

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Strengthening Local Food Production

The project will build the capacity of local farmers, fishers, and other producers to produce high quality products and market them to tourism businesses. 

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Promoting Local Foods

The project will reduce Palau’s dependence on imported foods and celebrate the islands’ gastronomic heritage by helping hotels and restaurants incorporate local ingredients into their menus.

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Including Women

Palauan women are heavily involved in production activities such as farming taro and vegetables, crab harvesting, certain forms of fishing, and producing honeys and jams. Attention will be given to further link these female producers to the tourism value chain.

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Encouraging Sustainable Resource Use

The project is optimizing resource use by encouraging local producers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and helping chefs make the most of local food products. 

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Developing a Destination Carbon Calculator

We are creating an online platform that will enable tourists to calculate the carbon footprint of their trip to Palau, including flights, lodging, dining, excursions, and ground transport.

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Funding Conservation Projects

Visitors will be able to offset their carbon footprint by contributing to conservation projects. These projects will reduce emissions and boost climate resilience by protecting/restoring coastal ecosystems that act as blue carbon sinks and natural storm barriers.

Our Partners

  • Palau Tourism Bureau
  • Slow Food
  • COFE
  • Taiwan ICDF
  • Palau Pledge
  • Palau Visitors Authority

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Tourist biking around town

How to Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Travels

We are currently battling a terrible global crisis. Over the past months, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken millions of lives, shut down tourism, and threatened the livelihoods of countless people. Though COVID-19 is front of mind right now, there is another crisis that will bring even graver consequences for humanity and imperil the destinations we love. That threat is climate change. 

Project to Make Palau a Carbon Neutral Destination Launched by Palau Bureau of Tourism, Sustainable Travel International, and Slow Food

The project will combat tourism’s carbon footprint by working with local food producers and launching a carbon platform for tourists

PALAU (August 11, 2020) The Palau Bureau of Tourism, Sustainable Travel International, and Slow Food have launched a new project in Palau that aims to mitigate the tourism sector’s carbon footprint and establish Palau as the world’s first “Carbon Neutral Tourism Destination.” The project is taking an innovative destination-level approach that includes promoting local food production within tourism and developing a carbon management program for tourists. This project supports the objectives of the Coalition of Fragile Ecosystems (COFE) and International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF) and has been endorsed by various government agencies, including Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism; Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs; Ministry of Education; the Our Oceans 2020 Organizing Committee; and the Office of the President.

Known for its unspoiled natural beauty and pristine seas, the Pacific Island nation of Palau is regarded as one of the top marine tourism destinations in the world. Last year, more than 89,000 international tourists visited the country, which has a population of just under 22,000. As such, tourism represents the islands’ main source of economic income and employment. 

As a small island destination, Palau is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which threaten the islands’ marine ecosystems, coastal communities, and tourism industry. While tourism is the economic lifeblood of the island, it also contributes to the climate crisis. Tourists are responsible for a significant portion of Palau’s carbon footprint as they travel to the remote island by plane and consume food imported from overseas. 

In recent years, Palau has taken extensive measures to further environmental protection and responsible tourism. This includes establishing one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries; creating the world’s first mandatory eco-pledge (Palau Pledge) that all visitors are required to sign upon entry; banning tour operators from utilizing single-use plastics and styrofoam; and protecting its marine environment through the adoption of the world’s strictest national sunscreen standard. This bold new initiative, which is being led by Sustainable Travel International, builds upon the country’s past efforts to specifically address the tourism sector’s climate impact. 

This project will reduce the carbon footprint of tourism in Palau by increasing the proportion of food that is sourced from local producers and reducing the industry’s dependence on imports. Among other activities, the project will accomplish this by celebrating the islands’ gastronomic heritage and building the capacity of farmers and fishers to market their products to tourists. Along with combating climate change, this will create income-generating opportunities for local communities and improve food security on the islands. A specific emphasis will be placed on sustainable production and empowering women producers to participate in the tourism value chain.  

To compensate for tourism’s unavoidable emissions, the project will develop a first-of-its-kind carbon management program for tourists to Palau. The new online platform will allow visitors to calculate and offset the carbon footprint associated with their trip, including both their travel to and activities in Palau. In line with Palau’s leadership in marine conservation, the offset contributions will be invested in blue carbon initiatives, such as mangrove restoration, or sustainable production activities in the region that reduce CO2 emissions. It is estimated that this program has the potential to raise over USD $1 million a year for these carbon reduction initiatives. 

“If the current COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we must strengthen our nation’s resilience to external threats – the greatest of which is climate change,” said Kevin Mesebeluu, Director of the Palau Bureau of Tourism. “Palau is blessed with some of the world’s most pristine natural resources, inherited through culture and tradition, and placed in our trust for the future generation. We must work to actively protect them, while also investing in our people. Palau embraces sustainable tourism as the only path forward in the new era of travel, and we believe that our destination can and must be carbon neutral.”

“This project has enormous potential to transform the traditional tourism model and is a notable step towards lessening the industry’s climate impact. Destinations around the world face these same challenges of balancing tourism growth with environmental protection. Carbon neutrality is the future of tourism and the direction that all destinations must head as they recover from COVID-19. We commend Palau for their continued leadership, and hope this inspires other destinations to strengthen their own climate resilience strategies,” said Paloma Zapata, CEO of Sustainable Travel International.

“The rapid growth of an unsustainable tourist industry based on broken food systems has been a key driver of the climate crisis and ecosystem destruction. This project represents the antithesis, a solution that strives to strengthen and restore value to local food systems, reduce the cultural and environmental damage caused by food imports, and improve the livelihoods of food producers both in Palau and beyond,” said Paolo di Croce, General Secretary of Slow Food International.

For more information on this project, please contact Kaitlyn Brajcich at kaitlynb@sustainabletravel.org. Project updates will be shared regularly on www.sustainabletravel.org.  

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Sustainable Travel International

Sustainable Travel International is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and conserving our planet’s most vulnerable destinations. We are transforming tourism’s impact on nature and people by working alongside local communities, engaging travelers and businesses in responsible practices, and strengthening destination management. Through our work, we aim to safeguard nature, combat climate change, and empower communities to preserve the integrity of destinations around the globe. Sustainable Travel International has implemented sustainability projects in more than 100 destinations around the world, and has 10+ years of experience facilitating carbon management in tourism. To learn more visit www.sustainabletravel.org

Palau Bureau of Tourism

The Bureau of Tourism (BOT) was created in 2014 to regulate the tourism industry, provide policy guidance to the President, and to be the destination management office of the Republic of Palau. In line with this mandate, BOT has promulgated national tour operator regulations, adopted a groundbreaking regulatory approach to sunscreen based on the precautionary principle, developed a unique Public Private Partnership with every private boat owner engaged in tourism transportation, and weeded out front businesses. Palau’s Responsible Tourism Policy Framework guides BOT by defining the vision for the tourism sector in Palau, that of a sustainable, high value, and low impact visitor industry. 

Slow Food

Slow Food is a worldwide network of local communities founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and to promote sustainable food systems. Since then Slow Food has grown to become a global movement that involves millions of people in more than 160 countries, all working to ensure that everyone has access to food that is good, clean and fair. The organization has a long-standing experience of implementing grassroots projects in collaboration with UN agencies.

International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF)

The International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF) is dedicated to boosting socio-economic development, enhancing human resources and promoting economic relations in a range of developing partner countries. TaiwanICDF also offers humanitarian assistance and provides aid in the event of natural disasters or an international refugee crises. Its work is tailor-made to the local needs of each partner country. TaiwanICDF’s assistance covers a variety of contemporary development issues such as environment, public health, agriculture, education, and information and communications technology. The TaiwanICDF is headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan. It has more than 100 domestic employees and 250 staff, volunteers, and madarin teachers working at overseas missions.

Coalition for Fragile Ecosystems (COFE)

The Coalition for Fragile Ecosystems is a young global alliance created by the UN Mountain Partnership and the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), focusing on the synergy between sustainable tourism and sustainable food systems as a vehicle for change. COFE aims to create an international network of fragile ecosystems that promotes sustainable tourism and sustainable food systems for increased resilience and improved livelihoods in mountains and islands. This effort by Palau is an important foundation activity that will help demonstrate what is possible in mountains and islands.

Girl walking in forest

Choosing A Carbon Offset Provider

There are a number of organizations that offer carbon offsets, but it can be difficult to decide which one to go with. When offsetting, it is important to go through an organization that is transparent, knows their stuff, and is creating meaningful and lasting impacts. To help you navigate all of the options that are out there, we’ve put together a list of things to look for when choosing a carbon offset provider. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to rest assured that your contribution is making a real difference and that you aren’t getting scammed.