From ancient plazas, to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex, to 20 kilometres of Blue Flag beaches, Valencia boasts bags of charm and variety. It’s also gloriously green, with two million square metres of gardens, 150 kilometres of cycle paths and 40 ciclocalles (cycle-priority streets). What’s more, through implementing its ground-breaking 2030 Sustainable Tourism Strategy, Valencia has become the first city in the world to verify and certify its carbon footprint from tourist activity.
As part of our ‘tell us your story’ initiative, we spoke to Emiliano García, Tourism Councillor for Valencia City Hall, to discover more about the city’s remarkable carbon-neutral commitment - surely a big tick if you’re looking to travel with a clear conscience.
When did Valencia decide to commit to becoming a carbon-neutral destination? How did the decision come about?
In 2015, when the Valencia 2020 Strategic Plan began to take shape, the city made a commitment to develop a sustainable tourism model that was more integrated and more accessible for both citizens and visitors, while also generating economic wealth for the city.
The city participates in environmental projects at a European level and also works at a local level to better the city's sustainability credentials incorporating a host of local stakeholders. Through this framework, the agreement with Global Omnium arose. Global Omnium is a Valencian water management company, whose pioneering technology enabled us to calculate our carbon footprint generated by tourism and, subsequently, audit it. This project has undoubtedly put Valencia at the forefront of sustainable destination management.
Could you give us an overview of the study into the carbon footprint of Valencia’s tourism activity? Were there any surprise findings?
One of the main surprises from the findings we developed with Global Omnium was that all tourism activity in 2019 reached 1.268 million tons of CO2, of which 81% corresponded to the movements of tourists to Valencia, but only 0.92% corresponded to the use of transport in the city. Other interesting findings included the fact that only 0.01% of the tourism footprint comes from water consumption and 0.41% from solid waste collection and treatment - Valencia has the highest water efficiency in Europe.
What actions are being taken to become a carbon-neutral destination?
According to the methodology established by the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the first step of the project has now been taken: calculate. The second is to reduce, and the third step will be to compensate.
For this reason, the measures will focus on reducing the direct consumption of petroleum-derived fuels; improving energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption from non-renewable sources; promoting the consumption of local products, goods and services; enhancing the local economy and the circular economy, and monitoring the carbon footprint of each establishment.
What challenges have you faced? What’s being done to overcome them?
For València, being the first city in the world to audit the carbon footprint of tourism activity has been the first step. Our horizon is to be a global example for other destinations. However, the current crisis, which has led to the pause of tourist activity, will require greater coordination between the public and private sectors. Tourism must continue to be an engine of wealth, well-being and development for local economies. For this reason, when tourist activity is resumed, it should be resumed in a sustainable way. Interestingly, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by tourist activity is only equivalent to one third of the carbon footprint generated by the food consumption of all the city's inhabitants.
To move forward with the project, we are implementing an intelligent platform that allows each establishment to record and communicate all its progress in sustainability (not only in reducing emissions, but in all sustainable development goals). By applying digitization to calculation and footprint reduction, smart data will be available to support Valencia’s 2030 Sustainable Tourism Strategy.
What are your personal highlights of Valencia?
Valencia is a city with a host of iconic places, which are perfect for more eco-conscious travellers. One of my personal favourite experiences is the coastline area of Els Poblats Marítims, with its gastronomy characterized by local fresh products. Valencia has one of the largest European orchards, and the proximity of the sea also guarantees fresh fish of the highest quality. I recommend heading to the fish market at the Port of València around 4 p.m. when the fishermen return to the port to unload tons of fresh fish and seafood. Most of the restaurants in town are supplied with fresh fish from the Port of València.
For those interested in finding out more about Valencia’s sustainable development plans, the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences provides an eye-opening insight into what is capable at the cutting-edge of new technology and innovation.
Top image: Oranges harvesting by tourists in Valnecia © FANDI/Visit Valencia
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her