• LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Youtube

Reaching 100 carbon neutral airports in Europe by 2030

The aviation industry accounts for 2% of global, human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. This may seem minimal but if aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter. However, significant improvements in the efficiency of air transport operations and technology have been made in the aviation sector, with aircraft produced today much more fuel efficient per passenger kilometre than in the 1960s.


To ensure international cooperation in mitigating the sector's emissions, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has adopted the aspirational goals of improving annual fuel efficiency by 2% as well as stabilising the sector's global CO2 emissions at 2020 levels (carbon neutral growth from 2020). The aviation industry has also committed itself to the ambitious target of a 50% reduction in net emissions by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.

An essential part of the strategy to achieve these targets will involve airports. With demand for flights forecasted to increase rapidly from 3.8 billion passengers in 2016 to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035, airports will face increasing pressure to accommodate this growth, in a sustainable manner. Decoupling growth from emissions may seem like an impossible feat, but many airports participating in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme have proven otherwise.

Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA), is the only independent, global carbon management standard for airports, which WSP has been involved with since its conception in 2008. Appointed as programme administrators by its owner, Airport Council International (ACI Europe), we play a key role in assessing and recognising the efforts of airports to manage and reduce their carbon emissions according to four ascending levels of certification – ‘Mapping’, ‘Reduction’, ‘Optimisation’ and ‘Neutrality’.  An impressive 2.7 billion passengers now travel through airports certified at one of these 4 levels of ACA, which is a testament to how the programme is mobilising efforts to address airport carbon footprints.

Close to meeting a global milestone of 200 participatory airports, the programme currently has 35 carbon neutral airports.

In June this year, ACI Europe and its member airports pledged to reach 100 carbon neutral airports in Europe by 2030. This is double the initial pledge of 50 carbon neutral airports, which substantiates commitment by European airports to play their part in combatting climate change.

We’re supporting the realisation of this goal through the development and implementation of a carbon neutrality road map. To reach carbon neutral status, airports will have to meet with increasing obligations, such as including the emissions from third party stakeholders operating at their airport in their carbon footprint. This includes airlines, ground handlers and retailers. Once an airport has met the requirements of levels 1, 2 and 3, it can then aim for the highest level of the programme – carbon neutrality. At this level, airports will have to offset their remaining carbon emissions under their direct control which cannot be reduced further, as well as business travel emissions. ACA places a strong emphasis on ensuring airports have firstly reduced their own emissions as much as possible, before allowing them to progress to ‘Neutrality’, and offset their remaining emissions.

The majority of participatory carbon neutral airports hail from Europe (28 airports), but we are seeing more and more non-European airports becoming carbon neutral too. Last year, Dallas airport in North America and Abidjan airport in Africa, made it to the list. But the biggest growth in carbon neutral airports came from Asia-Pacific where passenger markets are set to grow the most. Last year, ACA airports at neutrality level purchased offsets amounting to 537,635 tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to the emissions of 114,000 cars.

Whilst airports differ in their approach to becoming carbon neutral, there is a consensus that reaching this status requires a mix of ‘common sense’ and innovative approaches. Popular measures include on-site generation or buying in renewable energy, the use of low-carbon fuel and efficiency improvements for lighting, heating and cooling systems throughout the airport.

Reaching the goal of 100 carbon neutral airports in Europe by 2030 requires an average of five European airports achieving carbon neutral status each year, plus current carbon neutral airports maintaining their status through to 2030. We are now in the first quarter of the 9th year of the programme, and have already certified one new European carbon neutral airport, with a few more projected to follow in the coming months.

The aviation sector is a crucial element of the ground breaking Paris Agreement and is essential for its success. Airport Carbon Accreditation plays a key role in supporting the strong commitment by airports to help limit global temperatures to less than 2°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement. Through continuous cooperation and strong individual action, we're certain that the target of 100 carbon neutral European airports by 2030 will be met with ease.

By Aisha Rodriguez, Sustainability Consultant, WSP

Visit the Aviation Week campaign page