Tourism levy of 0.5 pct urged to protect wildlife

OSLO (Reuters) - An extra 0.5 percent should be levied on all tourism revenues and spent on protecting animals and plants from threats ranging from loss of habitats to climate change, an environmental expert said on Monday.

Such a charge on tourism, a global industry worth perhaps $6 trillion, would raise $30 billion a year to manage parks on land and at sea, said Peter Prokosch, head of GRID-Arendal, a foundation set up by Norway and the U.N. Environment Program.

“Ideally we would have 0.5 percent of world tourism turnover in management of protected areas,” he told Reuters of a proposal to governments that could help protect places from Arctic Canada to the Amazonian rain forest.

Prokosch said huge amounts of cash were needed to achieve a world goal set in 2002 or slowing the pace of extinctions by 2010, a target many experts believe is already out of reach.

U.N. studies say that the world is facing the worst wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, spurred by threats such as global warming, rising human populations, pollution and loss of habitats to farms or cities.

Prokosch said GRID-Arendal, which has about 40 employees, was seeking to persuade governments and the tourism industry of a need to tap holidaymakers for cash even though it would be unpopular -- 0.5 percent on top of a $1,000 vacation adds $5.

Still, he said protecting wildlife would help tourism in the long term. “Tourism is the sector most interested in protected areas. More than 50 percent of international travelers make use of protected areas during their visits,” he said.

A slightly higher cost of travel would help protect places from the Himalayas to the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and ensure that tourism operators still have something to sell.

About 12 percent of the world’s land surface is now in parks or protected areas but less than one percent of the world’s marine areas. German-born Prokosch said he floated his plan in May at a meeting of government and tourism experts.

A first task would be to raise the amount of the oceans in parks to help reverse the impact of decades of overfishing. And many parks on land exist only on paper with illegal logging, farming or mining often going on within the perimeters.

By one estimate by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, species of plants and animals are going extinct at a rate of three an hour. Estimates of the number of species on the planet range from about 5-100 million.