Airport carbon programme continues to grow as industry sees climate as an increasing concern
Tue 3 Dec 2019 – Following its tenth year since launch, the airport industry’s four-level carbon accreditation programme now has participation by 288 airports worldwide, with 61 airports at the highest carbon neutral level. The reporting year to May 2019 ended with 274 airports accredited, an increase of 16% over the previous year, which collectively reduced carbon emissions by 322,297 tonnes or 4.9% on the previous year. The 50 carbon neutral airports in the reporting year offset over 700,000 tonnes of CO2 to balance out their residual emissions. Following ACI Europe’s commitment earlier this year for all European airports to reach net-zero emission operations by 2050, the UK’s Birmingham Airport has revealed its goal of reaching the target by 2033. Meanwhile, climate change and its impacts has been identified by the industry as a foremost and increasing concern.
Since May, 14 airports have joined the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme and become accredited at one of its four levels – mapping, reduction, optimisation and neutrality. Out of these, 147 are in Europe, 53 in Asia-Pacific, 47 in North America, 27 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 14 in Africa. The 50 airports at the neutrality level offset 710,673 tonnes of CO2 in other sectors, compared to 672,000 tonnes the previous year, a 5.8% increase. In 2017, ACI Europe set a goal of reaching 100 carbon-neutral airports by 2030.
“Airports have been hard at work to deliver tangible CO2 reductions through the programme,” commented Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World. “It has been a decade since its launch and it keeps on growing – both in the number of airports coming on board and in the level of ambition for carbon management.”
Late last year, ACI published guidelines that set out new requirements and recommendations for carbon-neutral airports to help them procure high-quality offsets. This year’s annual report for the accreditation programme includes a dedicated section on carbon offsetting with more detailed information on the particular projects supported by accredited airports.
According to ACI, carbon neutral airports have a preference for Certified Emissions Reduction (CERs), through which 54% of emissions have been offset, although this is a drop from the 62% share during the previous reporting period. Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) offsets have been gaining ground with a 27% share, compared to 20% during the previous reporting period, with the Gold Standard remaining relatively steady with 19% of emissions offset.
In terms of project types, hydroelectric projects represent 24% of offsets, down from 66% during the previous reporting period, with biogas also at 24% but up from 8% in the previous period. This development represents a shift towards what the programme has identified as higher quality types in its guidance document, says ACI, which expects this trend to continue in the future.
ACI says it is important that prior to any carbon offsetting, airport operators need to pursue “every possible path” to reduce emissions under their operational control.
“In the wake of the Climate Emergency, the need for non-State climate action has never been more burning,” said Niclas Svenningsen of the UNFCCC, which is supporting the airport carbon programme along with ICAO, the European Commission, ECAC, Eurocontrol and the US FAA. “It is encouraging to witness the airport industry’s push for ambitious carbon management from within. There is much that other industries can learn from this and even emulate.”
In June, ACI Europe launched a Sustainability Strategy at its annual assembly and adopted a resolution that committed the European airport industry to becoming net zero for emissions under its control by no later than 2050 (see article).
The UK’s seventh biggest airport, Birmingham, has published its own Sustainability Strategy that focuses on reducing its environmental impact and making improvements in areas such as local air quality, waste, supply chain and the circular economy, water and biodiversity. The airport’s main commitment is to become a net-zero carbon airport by 2033 through prioritising zero carbon operations and minimising carbon offsets.
Over the next six to 12 months, the airport will work to revise its existing carbon management plan and develop a roadmap.
“This will set and prioritise genuine carbon reduction objectives rather than carbon offsetting schemes, which we see as the least favourable option,” it said. “Technology is changing at some pace and the movement to a net-zero economy itself is driving innovation across the energy and transportation industry, and the airport will take advantage of this.”
Airports in the UK are feeling the pressure in regard to the impact of climate change, said Derek Provan, CEO of AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, at last week's annual conference of the UK Airport Operators Association.
“We haven't lost the argument but we do need to change the way we get our message across around climate change. It’s true the game has changed in the last six to eight months and it’s true that we are probably behind the curve on this. We have a lot to offer and we shouldn’t be too apologetic as an industry but we must speak with more integrity and be more collaborative.”
Fredrik Kämpfe, Director of Industry Affairs for the Swedish Aviation Industry Group, told the conference: “I am soaked in the climate issue every day.” He reported there had been a drop of 9% in domestic and 1.5% in international air traffic over the past year. Despite reports, he said there was no clear evidence that this was all due to the ‘flygskam’ movement and a fall in the Swedish currency and economy issues had also contributed. Swedish aviation’s plans to be fossil-free on domestic routes by 2030 and all flights by 2045 had triggered numerous projects across a number of industries on a disruptive level, he said.
Andrew Cowan, CEO of Manchester Airport, which in 2015 became the first UK airport to become carbon neutral, said: “All airports recognise what an important issue climate change is and how it is right up the agenda now. We know we need to get this into our narrative and do things that improve our reputation but let’s not forget there is also a huge amount going on in the industry already. Between 2010 and 2016, UK passengers grew by 25% but carbon emissions only grew by 4% so we’ve already detached growth in aviation from growth emissions. However, over the next 30 years there’s clearly a lot more to do.”
A recent conference held by the Willis Towers Watson Airport Risk Community (ARC) heard that climate risk was becoming a major concern for airports. Around 86% of attendees felt that airports are either very exposed or somewhat exposed to climate risk with 48% highlighting flooding as their main weather risk.
“We established ARC to identify top risks affecting the airport community,” said John Rooley, CEO Willis Towers Watson Global Aerospace. “Our conference clearly demonstrated that airport clients were quite specific in their concerns about climate risk and its impact on airport functionality. Our commitment to tackling climate risk enables us to provide guidance on identifying and mitigating this issue.”
Meanwhile, Greenland’s main airport, Kangerlussuaq, is to end civilian flights within five years due to climate change, as the melting of permafrost is cracking the runway. The airport handled 11,000 traffic movements last year and commercial operations will be shifted to a new airport in Nuuk, where construction is due to start soon, reports Euronews.