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The rise of carbon neutral airports

According to plans by Airports Council International (ACI), by 2030 there will be 100 carbon neutral airports in Europe. In June 2017, ACI doubled its carbon neutrality target in support of the Paris Climate Accord, which aims to stem rising global temperatures. With the number of low-carbon and zero-carbon airports rising to 183 and political pressure rising, the move towards sustainable airports looks likely to accelerate.

But what are carbon neutral airports? How does an airport become carbon neutral, and how will their rise impact the future of aviation? Air Charter Service (ACS) investigates the increase in airports reducing their carbon emissions, and private jet charters to carbon neutral airports.

A growing trend

Aircraft in flight with Beijing Airport in the background
Aircraft in flight with Beijing Airport in the background

As of September 2017, 30 airports worldwide have achieved carbon neutral status, meaning their carbon dioxide emissions each year are zero. Twenty-five of these are in Europe and the largest is Gatwick Airport in London, which was confirmed as carbon neutral in May 2017. In addition, 189 further airports have been certified by global carbon management programme Airport Carbon Accreditation, meaning they are progressing towards carbon neutrality.

Although this number is a small percentage of the commercial airports worldwide (estimated at around 10,000) those undertaking Airport Carbon Accreditation tend to be larger and wealthier than average. As a result, these low-carbon airports welcome 2.5 billion passengers a year, which accounts for 38% of global, and a huge 81% of European air passenger traffic.

This is an impressive turn of events, given that it is only nine years since Sweden’s Stockholm-Arlanda became the world’s first airport to achieve carbon neutral status. In the last year alone, three new airports (Manchester, Athens and Lyon) have become carbon neutral.

Political pressure

World leaders stand united holding hands at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference
World leaders stand united holding hands at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference

So what is driving this rapid change? While public pressure and PR are clearly factors, politics is the main force behind the swing towards carbon neutral airports. At the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the European airport industry pledged to create 50 carbon neutral airports by 2030. To support the Paris Climate Accord of 2017, that target has since been doubled to 100.

There is some indication that the contribution flying makes to climate change is affecting plans for airport expansions in Europe. Since 2007, Heathrow Airport in London has been attempting to build a third runway; a plan repeatedly blocked by local residents and environmental campaigners. Similarly, in February 2017, Austria’s federal administrative court rejected a proposed third runway at Vienna Airport, arguing that the extra flights facilitated could add up to 2% to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. This creates a big financial incentive to build eco-friendly airports.

A case study

A passenger jet during boarding next to the runway at carbon neutral airport Gatwick
A passenger jet during boarding next to the runway at carbon neutral airport Gatwick

In May 2017, Gatwick Airport earned its carbon neutral certification from ACI Europe, becoming the largest and busiest carbon neutral airport in the world. So how did Gatwick achieve this admirable accreditation? The airport launched a “Decade of Change” initiative in 2010, with the goal of becoming the UK’s most sustainable airport. After seven years Gatwick now uses 100% renewable electricity, sends no waste to landfill (instead relying on recycling, and recovery for energy) and purchases Gold Standard carbon credits to offset inevitable ground fuel emissions.

During the initiative, Gatwick built a new onsite waste processing plant, introduced Tesla electric taxis and created a noise management board. The airport cut its annual carbon emissions from fuel and energy by 5% and reduced energy consumption by 2.6% per passenger and water use by 9% between 2010 and 2015.

The impact of carbon neutral airports

Secretary Kerry and New York Times columnist Friedman during the 2017 Paris Accord discussions
Secretary Kerry and New York Times columnist Friedman during the 2017 Paris Accord discussions

In June 2017, ACI Europe released the latest results for low carbon and carbon neutral airports’ carbon dioxide reduction over the past 12 months. In total, 154,351 tonnes of carbon dioxide were saved by participating airports – a figure equivalent to the CO2 emitted by 64,582 households over the course of a year.

Airport Carbon Accreditation has gained extensive public recognition since its launch, including a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. And in 2017, the prestigious International Transport Forum (ITF) proved in their Transport Outlook 2017 that ACI Europe’s work has demonstrably led to the enhanced CO2 efficiency of accredited airports.

If you are interested in experiencing private jet charters to the carbon neutral airports mentioned in this article, why not charter a private jet with ACS. We offer a wide range of aircraft, many offering best-in-class fuel efficiency, as well as first-rate customer service.

When an airport is carbon neutral, its carbon dioxide emissions over a year total zero, meaning it absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide that it produces. But how does a hub of large-scale mechanical equipment and vehicles, capable of meeting the needs of thousands of passengers and workers every day, achieve carbon neutral status?

After airports have undergone carbon mapping, reduction and optimisation, and explored solutions such as renewable energy, onsite waste recycling and electric taxis, they will typically turn to carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting involves funding external projects that reduce carbon dioxide to compensate for unavoidable emissions. For instance, an airport could pay for a wind energy facility to replace a coal-fired power-plant or fund the planting of a forest. For more information on sustainable airports, read our eco-friendly airports feature, reviewing greener airports around the world.

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