ACI World Airport Sustainability: Looking Back on 2022 and Onwards to 2050

Jennifer Desharnais by Jennifer Desharnais | Dec 14, 2022

A busy year in the sustainability agenda

During this last year, the aviation industry has continued its fight against climate change despite still being heavily preoccupied with managing the lasting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. If anything, the industry has been doing so with a renewed sense of purpose, and of urgency. Decarbonization has been at the forefront, and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) discussions have also been on the rise.

Earlier during the year, ACI World – in collaboration with the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) – looked at the integration of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) into the air transport system. Recommendations for airports included familiarizing themselves with SAF, identifying current suppliers, creating working groups, and even conducting infrastructure feasibility studies or processing test flights. This does not only serve to identify operational requirements; it can also give all stakeholders involved a greater understanding of the importance of each actor working together and give them confidence in the overall process. Other key recommendations included the need to use a book-and-claim system, and for SAF to arrive blended at the airport to minimize onsite infrastructure requirements.

Integration of SAF into the Air Transport System
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ACI World also developed a first of its kind guidance for airports on ESG Management Best Practice to define the differences between ESG and sustainability reporting, and why ESG matters to investors. The document also provides a sense of how airports are currently reporting, and how they can adopt a framework.

ESG Management Best Practice
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Government and industry alignment

After ICAO’s High-Level Meeting on a long-term global aspirational goal (LTAG) and the ICAO Council Meeting this summer, hopes – mixed with a little caution – ran high in anticipation of what would happen at ICAO’s 41st Assembly in the fall. The aviation industry was holding its breath for a positive outcome that would bring certainty to investors and a common, global policy framework to accelerate the decarbonization pace of the aviation ecosystem. Thankfully, on 7 October ICAO Member States adopted a goal of net-zero carbon emissions for international flights by 2050, indicating an alignment of ambitions between governments, airports, and the rest of the industry, who adopted a net zero carbon goal in June and October 2021 respectively.

Only a few weeks after ICAO’s Assembly, ACI World held its General Annual Assembly in the beautiful city of Marrakesh. The World Governing Board endorsed a resolution on Delivering the ICAO Net Zero CO2 Long-Term Aspirational Goal (LTAG). The resolution has a strong focus on energy demand and the integration of alternative fuel sources at airports. It also calls on ICAO Member States to work with industry to develop a roadmap and action plans for the delivery of net zero CO2 by 2050, to consider each airport’s local context, to support the global energy transition, and to incentivize infrastructure development with appropriate financial mechanisms.

This goes hand in hand with the work being done by the members of the ACI World Environment Standing Committee (WEnSC), whose role is to work with experts, policymakers, and industry leaders to develop sustainable airport policies that reflect airport interests. Led by representatives from ACI’s five regions, the committee ensures new policies, initiatives, and best practices are shared with airport members worldwide, and helps to identify emerging risks and potential solutions. As experts in their fields, WEnSC members contribute on a regular basis to the development of publications on sustainability topics released by ACI World.

At their last meeting, the group reemphasized the need to move forward with some of the recommendations that were part of the Long-Term Carbon Goal Study report published in 2021, especially now that the whole aviation ecosystem has agreed on a net zero carbon goal. To achieve this, the WEnSC will form a new task force that will focus its efforts on reviewing these recommendations and on facilitating their implementation.

The ACI Airport Carbon Accreditation Program, created by ACI EUROPE, will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in airport decarbonization. As the only global, airport-specific carbon standard which relies on internationally recognized methodologies. The program provides airports with a common framework for active carbon management with measurable goals.

According to Martin Doherty, Chair of the WEnSC and Environment and Planning Manager North Runway Project at daa: “Every airport region and indeed every airport is different, and they will have a variety of drivers for climate action and a wide range of solutions available to them depending on their circumstances. Many of these solutions will require significant infrastructural changes at airports as they facilitate the introduction of new sources of renewable energy. The global nature of ACI WEnSC ensures that best practice and expertise can be shared and developed across the regions to meet this climate challenge and other key environmental issues affecting airport regions as they grow back at different rates from a very difficult period.

Brendan Reed, Vice Chair of WEnSC and the Director of Airport Planning & Environmental Affairs at the San Diego International Airport (SAN) states: “With ICAO’s recent formal adoption of a net zero goal, it provides a unique opportunity for airports to further align their carbon reduction strategies with airlines and other industry partners to help amplify our collective efforts to decarbonize aviation both locally and globally. Going forward, it will also be critical that we proactively and broadly communicate the positive results from our collective efforts to our communities and government leaders on an ongoing basis.”

What happens now: Mentorship, capacity building, and financing

To facilitate knowledge sharing, ACI World organized a small virtual matchmaking event between airports that have reached a high level of maturity in carbon management, and airports that are at an earlier stage in their journey. The key takeaways were clear: top management’s buy-in, involvement and engagement of stakeholders, achievable targets, a step-by-step approach, and adequate regulation and funding mechanisms, are all essential elements to making real progress towards decarbonization. 

To show what can be done at the airport level, Kenya Airports Authority also shared their experience in a succinct case study on how solar photovoltaic and gate electrification systems have reduced CO2 emissions, improved operations, and lowered costs at Mombasa International Airport.

But we need to create even more opportunities for airports to share good practices amongst each other, and we need to improve the communication around airports’ sustainability efforts. The aviation ecosystem directly and indirectly contributes to making our world better, and we need to put together a strong and unified message that conveys this as well as all the hard work that airports are in fact doing to address climate change and improve the socioeconomic conditions of the communities they serve.

Our industry is now focusing on what is perhaps the most essential missing tool in the box in order to significantly increase the acceleration of decarbonization efforts and reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050: funds – and lots of them. The dialogues with financial institutions across the globe, including international development banks and funds, must become more serious, more concrete, and they need to happen now. These discussions should involve the public and private sector, and bring to the table lessors and investors, fuel suppliers, the energy sector, and policy makers and governments.

While decarbonization and climate change mitigation must remain top of priority, adaptation measures remain crucial. Any talks about financing mechanisms should include provisions that will allow airports to invest in resilient operations and infrastructure, and to prepare them for future risks and threats coming from more frequent and intense changes in climate. Adaptation is not only essential for protecting assets, but also protecting people.

Jennifer Desharnais

Jennifer Desharnais

Director Sustainability and Environmental Protection
Jennifer has developed a comprehensive understanding of the travel and tourism industry, with more than 18 years’ experience in aviation, hospitality, events, and tour operators. She holds a Bachelors’ degree in Business Administration and obtained an Executive MSc degree in Air Transport Management from Cranfield University in the UK, and submitted her thesis on the topic of sustainable aviation fuels. She is also pursuing a Certificate in Advanced Studies in Sustainable Tourism Management. She worked several years for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in both Geneva and Montreal, primarily with ground handling providers through different working groups, and with a focus on the Standard Ground Handling & Service Level Agreement and the Airport Handling Manual. Throughout her career, she has successfully built and maintained strong relationships and partnerships with various industry stakeholders. She is the ICAO CAEP Observer and ACI Secretary of the World Environment Standing Committee.
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