Buying locally is one way for tourists to reduce carbon footprint, an an oportunity exists for businesses looking to cash in on conscience
Cambodia's level of carbon emissions are relatively small at less than 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per capita per year, but as the tourism industry grows, so does the rate of carbon emissions.
According to GERES Climate Change Unit Manager Minh Cuong Le Quan, tourism directly affects climate change on two accounts. "One is direct emissions from the travel of the tourists," he said, with air travel making a particularly high contribution.
According to the Lonely Planet, a couple flying from London to New York adds 2.68 tonnes of CO2 to their carbon footprint, or over a quarter of the average UK household's yearly emissions.
As tourists visit restaurants and hotels, and travel between them, they also add to domestic consumption of fossil fuels, further adding to Cambodia's total greenhouse gas emissions, Le Quan said.
The first thing to do is take an honest look at one’s own practices.
But there are also additional, more subtle ways that tourism increases Cambodia's energy consumption, he added, as tourists maintain their first world, high-consumption lifestyles.
"People tend to take showers the same way and take baths the same way they would in the West or Northeast Asia," Le Quan offered as an example.
Steps to reduce footprints
Le Quan suggested ways that tourists can lessen their carbon footprint. "The first thing to do is take an honest look at one's own practices," he said. "This begins by using the least-polluting modes of transportation."
According to Le Quan, economy class seats are two times less polluting than business class seats on airlines, and three times less polluting than first class.
He also recommended staying in "environment friendly" hotels, though recognised this could be difficult in Camboida due to an absence of any specific "climate friendly" labels.
However, a number of hotels and restaurants have already gone beyond the usual eco-friendly standards, he said, including properties owned by the FABS Group and the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
It is also more environmentally friendly to buy Cambodian-made products and crafts instead of imports, and tourists can also give money to carbon offset programs, which GERES is involved with.
"The idea is good," said Le Quan, but added that potential donors look carefully at the organisations they are giving money to, pointing out that many are for-profit businesses.
Getting off easy
Some critics of carbon offsetting have compared such donations to the payment for papal pardons.
"This is a valid criticism," Le Quan said. "If you just keep going your own way and just offset because you've got money to spend on it and want to feel good about it, that's a pardon."
Instead, he suggests reducing consumption before paying for offsets.
To Le Quan, adopting climate friendly practices is an opportunity for businesses. "It's an opportunity to the structure of companies to answer to the new economy which is emerging this century, which is socially and environmentally responsible," he said.