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SUN (Strong Universal Network) focusing on eXistential in 2017 – the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

SUN (Strong Universal Network) focusing on eXistential in 2017 – the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

At the start of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, I want to pose a seemingly ridiculous question – “Can you have too much of a good thing”?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stand as one of the greatest achievements of our time – the culmination of more than half a century of increasing collective commitment to a fairer more equitable world, based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. An evolving, 15 year, locally led framework of 17 global SDGs, with 169 targets and 304 Indicators that addresses every aspect of life and the planet.

The SDGs have been cleverly designed to galvanize regional, national, and local stakeholders to make their own responses – for air, oceans, land, cities, industries, rural communities, indigenous people etc. Each with their own vision of the priorities, and version of the action needed. That means trillions of personal, corporate, NGO and government actions must start changing all over the planet: each calibrated to its own circumstance, ambition, and pace of change. Ultimately it will transform all production, consumption, and investment.

I would argue however, that one of these 17 Goals stands out from the rest – namely Goal 13 Climate Change – and for the simple reason that it is existential. Existential means that life on the planet is fundamentally threatened.  Without a fix, future generations will freeze or fry. And the intensifying impacts of extreme climate will severely aggravate many other SDG challenges. Which is why, the Paris Agreement with its 2050 national carbon reduction targets must be implemented now and intensified every 5 years for several decades.

For this year, the focus of the world’s largest industrial activity Travel & Tourism will be on how to link its sustainable development strategies with the SDGs. At the same time adapting to the alignment that the rest of humanity is making, for moral, business and social reasons. We will see new conferences, declarations, indicators, and coalitions; engaging public, private and civil society stakeholders. The entire year has been conceived and constructed to intensify and accelerate the Travel & Tourism intersect with all the SDGs and the scope and scale of the UN’s IYSTD Resolution is massive.  And rightly so – to be a real force for good, we have to be up with the mainstream curve on building sustainability into all our growth aspirations.

And it is here that my question becomes clearer – how to keep existential Climate Resilience front and center in our sector, in a year when Travel & Tourism sustainability is everyone’s flavor of the month and where all of humanity’s agenda is shifting to all of the SDGs. And how to make sure, going forward, that our sectoral approach to climate response tracks the ever-increasing existential demands of the Paris accords, as well as bridging the gaps between national/ international, global/local, and science/operational, that will be at the core of real change.

We believe SUN (a legacy program for Maurice Strong one of the great architects of Sustainable Development) will help, by its total focus on the intersect of existential Climate Change with the response and resilience of the Travel &Tourism Sector.

After several years of planning, the proof of concept SUN Centre will be launched in 2017 in the National Park in Limburg, Belgium – supported by local community stakeholders. It’s planned as the European hub of a global network of prefabricated, solar powered, cloud connected centers – focused on community climate resilience and travel.

There will be many aspects of the SUN experiment to set in place during 2017 – sourcing online data feeds, good practice and innovation: building links with the local community – particularly schools who we expect to be regular visitors: as well as preparing for platform content curation, global network operations and the like.

Our core collaborators are multidisciplinary and global, with lifetimes of commitment to Sustainability, Mobility, Tourism, Parks, Conservation and Infrastructure development – inside and outside the sector.

We will work, at Board level, to ensure closest integration with the Hoge Kempen National Park through its ground-breaking environmentalist Director Ignace Schops who commissioned the Centre with us; as well as with the University of Hasselt Field Research Centre and its UNFCCC linked “Ecotron” Climate Research Program.  Ignace’s vision as President of Europarc Federation will be an important point of focus for us, his concept of “Re-Connection, nature and community together, as well as his sustainability links as a Goldman award winner, Ashoka Fellow, Gore Ambassador and long-time IUCN member.

We will build on the relationship of SUN co-founder Felix Dodds with the UN Sustainable Development Goal Community, where he has been one of the key civil society architects – his recent book “Negotiating the SDGs” sets out a vision of their potential impacts and operations. Our collaboration goes back nearly 2 decades, cemented by a shared belief in the sustainable development philosophy of our friend and mentor Maurice Strong.

Tom Goldberg MBE, the Chair of the SUN-ARK company, former M.D. of global construction giant Atlas Ward, will bring the essential dimension of prefabricated building, solar power and efficient energy to our team. And I will reach out from my 4 decades of contacts in the sector with IATA, WTTC, UNWTO, WEF and now ICTP, to draw on worldwide thinking in this field.

We are determined that this will be a financially sustainable program and we know that there are fellow believers who see both the business and moral importance of the multi-decade transformation. We want to build long term relationships, not simply marketing plays.

But much as I believe that the SUN system will be a useful building block in the Climate Response of the “Travelism” ecosystem, there is still that nagging unanswered question of keeping the focus on the eXistential element of climate resilience amidst all the positive vibes of the SDG and the Tourism for Sustainable Development institutional enthusiasm of 2017.

For this reason, we will host a Strong Reflexion event in the fall of 2017 for the sole purpose of reviewing the intersect of existential Climate Change with the response and resilience of the Travel & Tourism Sector. It will coincide with the inauguration of the Limburg SUN Centre and will build on the experience of similar events held in recent years – including the IUCN led Strong Event prior to the Copenhagen COP.

We will also publish a new SUN “Existential Blog” monthly, to prepare for this event and to raise awareness afterwards – it will incorporate a wide range of views.

Last, but not least we will reflect this existential dimension in all our messaging, because if we don’t act now and keep acting, one day soon it will be too late.

For further information on SUN, please visit

The author, Professor Geoffrey Lipman, is the co-founder of SUN and President of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP), a travel and tourism coalition of global destinations committed to quality service and green growth. For more information and to become a member of ICTP for free, visit

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