Carbon goal will guide sustainable recovery and growth to 2050 and beyond

Luis Felipe de Oliveira by Luis Felipe de Oliveira | Jun 9, 2021

This month marks my one-year anniversary as the Director General of ACI World – I knew the first twelve months would be a challenging and unique experience but never in a million years could I have anticipated just quite how memorable they would be, both on a professional and personal level.

Despite all the challenges facing our industry, this was an ideal time to reposition ACI World, to work more closely with the ACI Regions, and set out a new mission for the organization in order to better serve our members.  I am also very proud of our joint effort in setting an ambitious global level target for the airport sector – a commitment to reach Net Zero carbon emission by 2050.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on airports but it has not diminished the industry’s commitment to sustainability with a continuing and increasing focus on climate change. Our global efforts will further complement the initiatives lead by the European airports and ACI Europe, where airports from Sweden have already achieved the Net Zero emissions goal in 2020, and hopefully help other airports across the world to achieve the ‘ultimate goal’ earlier than anticipated.

It has always been the case that our permission to operate and grow – at both local and global levels – will only be attained when airports, the wider aviation community, and governments work together to address, minimize, and mitigate the environmental impacts of aviation.

Airports Council International takes a leadership role in the aviation industry in promoting sustainable development which actively addresses environmental impacts while ensuring delivery of the undoubted economic and social benefits of aviation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for a net-zero economy by 2050 and identified a need for the aviation industry at large to continue the momentum of global collaboration and develop more ambitious CO2 reduction goals to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Airports – as a key part of the aviation industry – have been taking active steps to address the environmental impact of operations for decades and the goals of ACI’s environmental initiatives are to promote sustainable development that removes, reduces, or mitigates the environmental impact while supporting the delivery of economic and social benefits.

The time has come, however, for a bold commitment on climate change: a long-term carbon goal that will guide airports towards net zero emissions.

Net zero by 2050

According to the IPCC, aviation is responsible for between 2 and 3% of total global human- induced carbon emissions with airports producing approximately 2% of this amount.

Over the last 40 years, the aviation industry has invested billions in research and development which has resulted in measures and practices which have made significant progress in reducing its environmental impact.

While this work has been effective – ACI member airports have decreased emissions over the last 10 years despite significant traffic growth in that time – aviation’s share of global emissions is expected to increase as it will continue to grow, and other sectors decarbonize, so more must be done.

A common, credible, and ambitious carbon goal for airports is a positive driving force in the aviation sector as it continues to pursue a sustainable recovery.

With the support from the consultants ICF and Airbiz, and from Hong Kong International Airport, Oman Airport, the Schiphol Group, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle Tacoma International Airport, Vancouver Airport, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Exolum, Terpel and the World Fuel Services – we have created an ambitious long-term carbon goal to drive further action and support the decarbonization efforts of airports as they respond to climate change.

ACI member airports at a global level commit to reach net zero carbon emission by 2050 and urge governments to provide the necessary support in this endeavor.

This Net Zero goal is focused on carbon emissions under the direct control of airport operators which are members of ACI.  Not all emissions, for example, emissions from aircraft operations, are under the direct control of the airports. Still, airports are encouraged to go beyond the scope of this goal and work with their airline and commercial partners to influence and address the common goal to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint.

But airports cannot do this alone.

If we are to realize this ambitious target, we must work closely the wider aviation community and count on the support of governments and key stakeholders to address, minimize, and mitigate the environmental impacts of continued aviation growth.

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Long Term Carbon Goal Study for Airports Report, 2021
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The roadmap to net zero

It is clear that airports can play an integral part of the solution to climate change but ACI World recognizes that each airport, country, and region is different.

The long-term carbon goal is ambitious and aspirational and intended to be adopted by individual airports in accordance with local conditions and with the support of local governments.

Indeed, the steps to net zero carbon emissions will require common policies and collaboration with industry, government and other stakeholders. The greatest source of airport operators’ carbon emissions, for instance, is from purchased electricity generated off-site. Consequently, the carbon intensity reduction of the electricity grid is not something upon which they can make a unilateral decision

But airports are already increasingly looking beyond their boundaries to reduce passengers’ environmental footprint as investment in infrastructure and increased collaboration between airports, aircraft operators, and other stakeholders is essential to achieve more carbon reduction.

We will support airports in developing a voluntary Airports Action Plan to guide them taking action and gather relevant information and knowledge, including identifying where capacity building and support is necessary. This will also help inform on the progress and achievements of the sector towards the goal and will be used to reassess the feasibility of the goal and any adaptations required.

As they continue down this path and in working with their partners, airports should communicate, especially to governments and the public, the heightened focus and future aspirations on climate action and decarbonization, share their success, and bring their communities along with them.

This will reinforce the benefits of decarbonization and set out the concrete measures being taken to promote an open and inclusive low carbon future to which all airports can aspire.

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Long Term Carbon Goal Study for Airports Report, 2021
Free Download

Supporting members in pursuit of net zero

ACI is right behind member airports as they work to reach this net zero future. For more than 10 years, ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation has been the only institutionally-endorsed, global carbon management certification programme for airports. It independently assesses and recognises the efforts of airports to manage and reduce their carbon emissions.

We also created Airport Carbon Emission Reporting Tool v.5.1 (ACERT) which enables any airport to  measure and manage their CO2 emissions and the Airport Ground Energy Systems Simulator (AGES-S) which enables airports to quantify the environmental and economic benefits of reducing the use of aircraft auxiliary power units by replacing them with a ground-based energy system.

Both of these tools help members create business cases for investment in such energy-saving infrastructure.

Coupled with this, ACI’s Global Training programmes cover areas including CO2 reduction, Airport Energy Management and other key environmental areas that are at the forefront of airport management, and we have also explored a new strand of our Airport Excellence – or APEX – programme dedicated to helping airports share best practice and knowledge in the specific area of environmental management.

We will continue to adapt and improve our assistance to members to reflect developments in this area and to accompany our members on this critical path.

Climate action is crucial to global recovery and delivery of aviation benefits

This effort is crucial to the global economic recovery from the impact and effects of COVID-19.

Aviation is one of the main drivers behind globalization, driving the development of the modern world.  The industry’s global economic impact – direct, indirect, induced, and catalytic – contributes trillions to world gross domestic product, supports millions of jobs globally, and fosters sustainable development.

The network of airlines, airports, and air traffic management organizations link major cities and communities around the world 24 hours a day. Before the pandemic, our industry transported more than 9.1 billion passengers annually, making it the only rapid worldwide transportation network essential for global business and tourism, and plays a vital role in facilitating global economic and social prosperity, particularly in developing countries.

Furthermore, some 60% of direct aviation jobs are at airports, and to ensure that aviation can continue to provide the economic and social benefits to the communities we serve, and be a leader of the global economic recovery from the pandemic, we need to reset to a more sustainable model and show that we are taking real action on climate change.

This is a global effort – climate change remains the greatest challenge facing the world – and we are proud to play our part.

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Luis Felipe de Oliveira

Director General, ACI World
Luis Felipe joined ACI World as Director General in June 2020 bringing with him vast experience in commercial and technical aviation. He successfully led the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) between October 2017 and May 2020, promoting positive change in the organization. Prior to joining ALTA, Luis Felipe served as World Fuel Services’ Vice President Supply Development for Latin America and Caribbean where he was responsible for improving World Fuel’s aviation fuel business in the region. He is a Chemical Engineer and graduated from the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and has a postgraduate qualification in Finance from the University of São Paulo, an MBA from Dom Cabral Foundation in São Paulo, and Post MBA from Kellogg University in Chicago.
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