April 2023, March 2023

The Five Minute Feature

The State of Play on Climate

By Alexandre de Joybert, ACI EUROPE Director of Sustainability

March has been a tumultuous month in terms of climate action news. Between the release of the best-ever results of airport climate action within Airport Carbon Accreditation, the ongoing climate and energy debates in the EU, and the publication of the last instalment of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment cycle – which presented a truly cataclysmic vision of the future – it felt like a rollercoaster. Let’s start at the beginning.

Reasons to be hopeful

On 7th March, ACI EUROPE Director General Olivier Jankovec presented at the Passenger Terminal Conference in Amsterdam on Airport Carbon Accreditation, taking stock of the progress of global airport climate action within the programme. The annual results released that day showed unprecedented levels of engagement and efforts in carbon management from the airport industry across the globe.

Despite COVID-related hurdles, airports beat records in all performance metrics in the period covered by the Annual Report (May ’21 – May ’22). Notably, the CO2 savings delivered were the best ever reported, with accredited airports managing to reduce more than half a million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to the CO2 emitted by over 167,000 individual round trips between London and New York. In addition, the programme saw a 30% growth in participation, with 395 airports certified in 79 countries. 86 airports upgraded to more advanced levels of carbon management, 89 airports are now holding the most stringent levels of accreditation – Level 4/4+, which puts them on CO2 reduction trajectory fully aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. This was truly a record-breaking year for airport climate action.

The momentum keeps going, with new airports becoming accredited and progressing to higher levels of the programme almost daily. Against this backdrop of intensified airport action and ambitions, ACI EUROPE has embarked on a new challenge of expanding the framework once more. After the successful launch in 2020 and the subsequent landslide adoption by airports of Levels 4/4+, the Airport Carbon Accreditation taskforce of ACI composed of airport sustainability experts and spearheaded by Emmanuel Fleuti from Zurich Airport is preparing the ground for the ultimate level of the programme – the Level 5 Net Zero Carbon Airport. For me personally, these developments are cause for optimism.

Industry needs red-carpet treatment for SAF

The success of any climate efforts lays in the collective. Whilst airport climate action is going from strength to strength, we mustn’t forget that airport emissions account for up to just 5% of the total carbon footprint of aviation. It is therefore crucial that we go beyond our own turf and work to accelerate emissions reductions in Scope 3. In other words, flights and aircraft emissions.

As outlined in the DESTINATION 2050 decarbonisation roadmap delivered jointly by the five major associations representing the aviation industry in Europe including ACI EUROPE, in the short term, our best bet for unlocking carbon savings from flights are Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). It is therefore paramount that the necessary support for the fledgeling SAF industry is put in place in Europe, including its clear identification as a key clean technology. We need to ensure that the full value chain is covered by EU’s Green Deal support mechanisms – including research and development, production, transport, storage and uptake of SAF. For the moment, we are far from having that clarity, which keeps potential investors and entrepreneurs in a holding pattern.

There is a high risk that the EU and the rest of Europe could find themselves on the back foot, as other markets – particularly the US – are rapidly taking the lead in incentivising SAF production and uptake. ACI EUROPE and the Destination 2050 partners are engaging with the EU institutions to ensure Europe remains the leader in decarbonising aviation. We are also closely involved in industrial alliances established by the European Commission to address policy, regulatory and financing hurdles – including the EU Alliance for Zero Emission Aviation (AZEA).

The time to act is now

This is all the more important given the context of the just-published final part of the world’s most comprehensive assessment of climate change – which details the “unequivocal” role of humans, its impacts on “every region” of the world and what must be done to solve it.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) involved more than 700 scientists in 91 countries in elaborating and reviewing its findings. The picture it paints is alarming, triggering the UN Secretary General António Guterres to call on developed states to move faster with their actions to save the climate, citing 2040 as the new goal they should be aspiring to. He said: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

The report has made it clear that urgent and drastic action is needed to curb the devastating effects of climate change. As one of the so-called hard-to-abate sectors, aviation has a critical role to play in this effort. The time to act is now, and every effort must be made to accelerate the decarbonisation of aviation. No stone should be left unturned in our quest to curb emissions, from investments in sustainable aviation fuels and electric aircraft to improvements in air traffic management and aircraft design.

The aviation industry is already embracing these solutions with a sense of urgency and purpose, but it needs the support and cooperation from policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders. Failure to act now will have severe consequences for our planet, our economies, and our societies. It is time to take decisive, effective and collaborative action to reduce aviation emissions and ensure a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable future for all.