More than 200 members of ACI Europe, the trade association for European airports, have committed to produce net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The body also called for the aviation sector to develop a long-term “joint ambition and vision” for reducing emissions across the sector, supplementing existing efforts.
There are already three net zero airports in Europe; Luleå, Ronneby and Visby, all operated by Swedish airport operator Swedavia.
Swedavia is setting the same target for its Stockholm Arlanda hub by 2020. Hamburg Airport aims to reach net zero emissions by 2022, while Amsterdam Schiphol, Eindhoven, Copenhagen and the Norwegian airport operator Avinor are targeting 2030.
The list of airports also includes Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, London City, East Midlands, Dublin, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Brussels, Cork, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, ANA Aeroportos de Portugal, Paris CDG, Paris Orly and Lyon-Saint Exupéry.
ACI Europe estimates that the commitment will remove around 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
The resolution was passed by 203 airports this week as delegations from around the world met in New York for the UN Global Climate Action Summit.
More than 100 cities, 66 countries and 93 companies committed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, although some of the world’s biggest polluters – such as the US, China and India – did not.
This week also saw the annual general meeting of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, at which offsetting emissions was high on the agenda.
The group agreed to partner with the World Economic Forum “on issues pertaining to sustainability and all aspects of aviation development”.
It called off its Friday session as it coincided with “climate strikes” taking place around the world, including in Montreal, during which thousands of people gathered to call for urgent action to tackle climate change.
The ICAO has been criticised by some for making its inner workings too opaque.
How can aviation reduce its emissions?
International flights currently account for around 1.3 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions produced through human activities, while aviation as a whole accounts for more than 2 per cent. At current rates of growth and pollution that could rise hugely over the coming decades; by as much as 300 per cent by 2050, according to an ICAO estimate.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a group of almost 300 airlines, has already committed to capping net CO2 emissions from next year and reducing net CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
Approaches to this will include investments in biofuels and electric aircraft for short-haul flights, as well as renewing fleets with more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350.
This week’s resolution by European airports applies only to carbon emissions “under their control”, and so does not include emissions from aircraft.
Most will move towards net zero through a combination of carbon offsetting, electric vehicle use, reduction of power consumption around the site and sourcing that power from greener sources.
Swedavia, for example, says it uses biofuels to heat its buildings and “green” electricity in other operations.
Liam McKay, Director of Corporate Affairs at London City Airport, told Business Traveller its measures would include an investment into the installation of a new energy microgrid and 900 sqm of solar panels, as well as re-fleeting all airside vehicles to zero emissions by 2030 and reducing energy demand where possible throughout the airport.
Airports can also support airlines in their operations. Heathrow’s four-fold plan for carbon neutrality includes offering cheaper landing fees for cleaner aircraft; reducing emissions from aircraft on the ground through access to on-stand power sources and reduced taxi times; and supporting UK-based biofuel projects (such as British Airways’ collaboration with Velocys and Virgin Atlantic’s with Lanzatech).
It has also offered free landing fees for a year for the first commercially viable electric flight, worth around £1 million.