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Nature-based Blue Carbon Offsets:
How Iberostar plans to offset its carbon footprint by protecting nature

Setting the global context

At Iberostar we strongly believe in developing a clear, transparent strategy for our business and the sector to reach carbon neutrality in the face of expected impacts of climate change. Currently, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations from man-made sources are increasing at a rapid pace (1). In our own business, we are witnessing the impacts of global warming and rising ocean temperatures, as well as extreme weather events that cause flooding and coastal erosion. This situation poses numerous challenges for natural systems, communities and businesses (2).

At a global level, the scientific community has identified that avoiding these negative impacts is only possible with global efforts to drastically reduce GHG emissions by 2030 and remove large reserves of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050 (3). Over time, total greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere will determine the severity of impacts on natural and human systems. As such, it is time for organizations and the private sector in general to act and take responsibility for decarbonizing their industries.

Recently, investments by the private sector to improve the capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change have been increasing. However, these investments have been primarily focused on external offset markets, often investing in projects that avoid carbon emissions into the atmosphere, or investing in the protection or restoration of nature outside the scope of business operations (4). Here, we present our strategy for how we plan to offset our carbon footprint (as one component of our strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030) by protecting nature in our touristic destinations.

Iberostar Group’s Wave of Change Movement

Wave of Change is the pioneering responsible tourism movement of Iberostar Group, our commitment to the oceans through our five long-term commitments:

  1. Iberostar’s operations are single-use plastic free by 2020, waste free (as in no residuals sent to landfill) by 2025, and carbon neutral by 2030
  2. Iberostar’s seafood consumption is 100% responsible by 2025
  3. All ecosystems that surround Iberostar properties are improving in ecological health alongside profitable tourism by 2030
  4. Wave of Change is recognized by 90% of clients in-stay by 2023 and is a major driver for 60% of clients to choose Iberostar by 2025
  5. Iberostar’s own certification or verified partner certifications for responsible tourism are adopted by 2x the number of hotels Iberostar manages by 2030

We believe with these goals, we play a leading role in the transition towards responsible tourism. To do so, it requires building resilience in our natural systems, linking healthy relationships between people and nature, as well as providing roadmaps for businesses focused on nature-based solutions, a circular economy and responsible supply chains.

As we aim to improve the health of local ecosystems and achieve carbon neutrality, we consider the potential of nature as a solution, in particular the marine and coastal ecosystems that store significant amounts of carbon, known as blue carbon (5).

 

Iberostar Group’s strategy for carbon neutrality by protecting nature

While we work to increase our operational efficiency, remove waste as a concept in our operations, and shift towards renewable energy, we understand we will still have a carbon footprint by 2030. Here, we commit to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 by offsetting at least 75% of our emissions through the protection or restoration of ecosystems where we operate. The remaining offsets will be achieved through other forms of carbon credits.

We recognize that the world needs to rapidly reduce GHG emissions, the foregoing focused on achieving the temperature stabilization objectives established in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (6). To this end, Iberostar Group, with presence in 34 countries , will continue work towards the reduction of emissions in its facilities and company vehicles (scope 1) and to continue shifting towards renewable energies and applying energy efficiency in all its global operations (scope 2). Iberostar recognizes that indirect emissions derived from products and services acquired by the Group (scope 3) have substantial impact and will work in 2021 to define its scope 3 emissions and its intended offsets. An amendment to this statement will be provided with the launch of Iberostar’s definition for scope 3 emissions.

To provide quantitative context for Iberostar’s current status, Iberostar's total carbon footprint in 2019 was 230,000 metric tonnes of GHG for scope 1 and 2 emissions. We expect our total carbon footprint to be different by 2030. It will increase from expansion of the business. It will also decrease from our strategy for a circular economy to increase our energy efficiency in global operations alongside a shift towards renewable energies. However if we use this current footprint to estimate the scope of this initiative, we calculate 75% of our 2019 footprint as 172,500 metric tonnes. This indicates Iberostar will need to be prepared to protect approximately 138,379 acres of mangrove or other forest in tropical coastal areas equivalent to 560,000 mangroves or up to 2,240,000 terrestrial trees capable of sequestering this amount of CO2 (7, 8, 9). For context of scale, this reduction could mean the elimination of emissions generated by 28,750 people per year that on average emit 6 tons of CO2, or the elimination of emissions generated by 37,268 passenger vehicles driven during a year equivalent to 19,410,375 gallons of fossil fuels consumed (10,11).

This strategy is part of Iberostar’s broader Wave of Change movement. As such, it is connected to our goals for restorative water systems and healthy ecosystems in our destinations. A sustainable ocean economy must implement integrated solutions that are based on solid scientific evidence, broad-reaching private-public partnerships, and the close participation of local communities, academia and government entities. To achieve this sustainable ocean economy within Iberostar, we present these four objectives for our program on Nature-based Blue Carbon Offsets:

  1. Combined with other restoration and protection programs in Coastal Health, offset at least 75% of GHG emitted by Iberostar’s operations by 2030.
  2. Use Nature-based blue carbon as an additional source to filter excess nutrients after treatment in selected properties where Iberostar has its own facilities for the treatment of wastewater.
  3. Curate the destination by adding at least 25% more green space (vegetation) in areas adjacent to select Iberostar hotels, with the intent of protecting natural spaces in destinations.
  4. Generate the highest volume outreach activity for clients to experience Coastal Health of Wave of Change.

Framework for the four goals

Here, we aim to provide greater detail for the strategic framework of this initiative. Eighty percent of Iberostar’s operations are located along the coast, where marine and coastal ecosystems play an essential role in our business and in human well-being (12). These coastal ecosystems provide protection of the coasts from damage caused by natural phenomena such as storms, hurricanes and coastal erosion; regulation of nutrient cycles and improved water quality; generation of resources and products for consumption, livelihoods and tourism; and the wellbeing of communities. In addition, ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes are essential for organic carbon capture (13), making them priority ecosystems for protection and restoration. Resilient coastal ecosystems are essential to the business bottom line of coastal tourism. The quality of our beaches and destinations are linked to their natural beauty and resilience.

The contributions of the ecosystems in the Mediterannean and eastern Atlantic regions will be outlined with Iberostar’s strategy for coastal health. However, given the efficiency of blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves and their concentrations in regions such as the Caribbean, this announcement is focused on initiatives to accelerate the protection and restoration of mangroves. The protection and restoration of mangroves has been identified as a key solution to face climate change given its great ecological importance and its capacity to capture carbon with an efficiency up to 10 times greater than that of terrestrial forests, thanks to the capacity of storing in soils and retarding the decomposition of organic matter, which leads to the accumulation of large amounts of carbon (14, 5). Iberostar further recognizes the importance of seagrass meadows in carbon storage and capture (15), and will be detailing its strategy for the protection or restoration of ecosystems predominant in the Mediterannean (18) with its overall roadmap to coastal health to be launched in 2021.

According to the World Mangrove Atlas, mangroves are widely distributed in tropical and subtropical areas of the world and the areas they occupy are considered of high ecological importance and constitute a transition system between the terrestrial and marine environment (16). Sixty four percent of all mangroves are found in 10 countries and 42% are concentrated in just four: Indonesia, Brazil, Australia and Mexico (17).

In the Caribbean region, an area of roughly half of Iberostar Group’s operations, mangroves are well developed along the coasts of countries such as Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, and constitute some of the most important reserves of carbon stocks of the tropics. In that sense, our initial focus for this region includes the commitment to protect and restore mangroves, to achieve maximum carbon absorption and sequestration, so that we achieve the net balance of global emissions.

Here we present our approach based on a spatial analysis of the landscape within Iberostar properties and in nearby areas. This is to assess protection or restoration needs, to achieve the four objectives of this announcement. We intend to use a weighting factor based on natural resources and their potential to capture and reduce carbon emissions for each site of operation. In this way, we can establish the capacity that each country or region has to offset total emissions. Once Iberostar's global emissions have been calculated (initially for scopes 1 and 2, to be determined for scope 3), we can use the weighting factor to distribute the global carbon footprint. For example, the amount of carbon offset that we hope to implement in countries with a greater presence of mangroves (Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Jamaica, Dominican Republic) or contribution of seagrass (eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) will serve to offset the contribution of other hotels urban and city in global emissions compensation.

For our first goal (offsetting 75% of our carbon footprint by 2030) and our third goal (curating our destinations), we plan to implement multinational programs for the protection and / or restoration of ecosystems focused inside and outside the Iberostar complexes. This includes projects in priority sites in the Bavaro region of the Dominican Republic, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the North Coast in Jamaica, the North of the Cuban Archipelago and the Baiano Coast in Brazil. Furthermore, we plan to scale up conservation efforts on other continents (Europe and Africa) and priority regions such as the Balearic Islands and the Gulf of Cádiz in Spain and the extensive coasts of the Mediterranean where we have significant operations. In addition, priority will be given to the selection of sites for protection or restoration based on the ecology of local species and the environmental conditions of the sites (19).

Our goal is to ensure a sustainable transformation path for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems (both blue carbon and terrestrial forests) by evaluating the benefits and costs of their protection (5). The cost-benefit ratio is expected to be high considering the net economic and ecological benefits, for example, every dollar invested in mangrove conservation and restoration generates a benefit of $ 3. It is worth mentioning that specifically the protection of mangroves in terms of cost-benefit performance is more efficient than restoration, due to the implementation costs of this tool determined by survival rates and by the carbon sequestration process throughout the time (21).

For our second objective of increasing nutrient filtration in hotels where we have built our own wastewater treatment facilities, we propose to increase the total area (acres) of mangrove or other blue carbon. For example, in the Dominican Republic, we will increase the coverage of mangroves within the Bavaro complex, concentrated in regions where our waste water treatment facilities are located.

For our fourth objective of having the highest volume of outreach programs for our clients in initiatives around coastal health, we are committed to increasing communication between Iberostar clients, employees, the local community and the general public. We will evaluate the collaborative work with partner organizations and Iberostar's internal capacity to establish action networks at the destination level.

To track this progress, and in accordance with our values of transparency and reporting, we will prepare a detailed analysis of annual progress, which will be linked to our roadmap for both Circular Economy and Coastal Health.

According to the World Bank, attribute a value to CO2 emissions, so that companies can plan their investments in carbon credits by promoting external projects to reduce emissions (22). We propose that the reasons for the tourism sector to act now are not necessarily driven by purely economic indicators or through external mechanisms for the elimination of emissions. Our conviction lies in a broad and biologically aligned set of motifs that have multiple benefits. This fundamentally speaks of the directions of environmental, social and governance aspects, that is, of the main strategies for large companies to adopt similar practices in the face of climate change motivated by investment in the protection of nature by conserving the destination with nature-based solutions.

References

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