Recovery in the short term must have an eye on long term carbon goals

David Whitely by David Whitely | Nov 19, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic and prolonged effect on aviation, bringing global traffic to a standstill, sustainability remains one of the key pillars of our industry.

While airports, airlines and their partners in the global aviation ecosystem have been rightly focused on survival in the short term, climate change continues to pose the highest long-term risk that the world faces.

Indeed, the ACI World Annual General Assembly emphasized that climate change, adaptation, and resilience should be included in airport recovery plans and remain key issues for the sector despite the pandemic.

Towards a green recovery for aviation

The recovery of the aviation industry will be a key driver of the global economic recovery. To ensure that aviation can continue to provide the economic and social benefits to the local, regional and national communities the industry serves, it is crucial that a green recovery is pursued.

A green recovery will lay the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable industry for the long term with airports playing an important, central role in the interconnected and interdependent aviation ecosystem.

The aviation industry has been committed to further reducing its climate impact – already a flight taken by a passenger today will produce half the CO2 that the same flight would have in 1990 – and, while airports contribute only a small fraction to the total level of industry emissions, they remain committed to decarbonize. The pathway to decarbonization may not be the same for different regions, but that is expected, including some regions achieving their milestones earlier than others. 

To decarbonize, however, airports and their partners in the aviation industry need the support of appropriate regulation and government policies to facilitate a green recovery and push for real change.

Appropriate government support and facilitation will help the aviation industry to transition energy sources from fossil fuel to sustainable aviation fuel and accelerate research and development of electric, hybrid and potentially hydrogen aircraft.

Tackling the global challenge of climate change

Climate change is a global challenge that requires worldwide collaboration and action.

While airports and the wider aviation industry will rely on government support through policies, investment, and incentives to decarbonize the sector and make it more resilient, airports should keep climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience as key parts of their strategies and recovery plans.

This is the time to keep sustainability and resilience at the core of recovery strategies.

While the industry if focused on the long term goal of decarbonization, the effects of climate change are already being felt.

Almost 70% of airport operators who responded to the ACI survey on Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Change in 2019 reported that they had already been impacted by adverse weather patterns and conditions.

Comprehensive climate change resilience and adaptation risk management strategies are needed to ensure the continuity of operations and airports are looking for opportunities to build back better, where sustainability is at the core of these recovery plans, balancing: environmental protection, social welfare, and economic development.

Airports should explore multiple solutions for decarbonization towards a gradual transition to net zero carbon in the long-term and to continue to conduct risk assessments, including them as in integral part of master planning.

Keeping pace with change

The world’s airlines, airports, air traffic management providers and the aircraft and engine manufacturers were one of the first industries to set long-term climate goals a decade ago.

Indeed, beginning long before the pandemic, the aviation industry has invested billions in measures and practices which have made significant progress in reducing environmental impact.

Airports continue to play their part, but this global challenge requires a coordinated global response.

We need to ensure that the collaboration across the whole industry that we have seen in the response to COVID-19 continues as all players in the aviation ecosystem come together with the common goal of a green recovery.

This will need a commitment for increased collaboration – beyond even the current high level – as time is short.

As we plan for a sustainable recovery from COVID-19, we also need to lay the foundation for sustainable global connectivity for the coming decades.

David Whitely

David Whitely

Senior Director, FTI Consulting
David Whitely is a ACI World Business Partner with more than 25 years’ experience in journalism, corporate, media, and public relations in the UK, Canada and Australia. He has held in roles with HSBC, and with the governments of the UK and Western Australia. In aviation, David has served in the senior leadership teams of London Gatwick Airport and ACI World. He is currently a Senior Director with FTI Consulting based in the Asia-Pacific region and supports clients on strategic communications matters including ESG, crisis and reputation management, and change communication.
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