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Carbon Emissions: What Are Airports Doing Around the World?

People love to travel. And thanks to air travel, we now go to places we never dreamt of before. Globally, more than 3.5 billion people took an airplane in 2015, either for business or for leisure.


San Francisco Airport

That’s 6.4% more than in 2014, but a lot less than what is expected in the coming years. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, estimates that the number of air passengers will reach 7.3 billion by 2034. That is a lot of travelling.

But does it mean that greenhouse gas emissions will increase at the same pace? The airport community is doing its part; it has been tackling the issue for some time and it is making real progress.

In 2009, ACI EUROPE - the European regional trade body of Airports Council International (ACI) - launched a voluntary and independent program to help reduce the airport industry’s carbon footprint, the Airport Carbon Accreditation initiative.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff was engaged by ACI EUROPE from its conception. The engineering firm helped ensure that the program was built on existing airport practices and compatible with international reporting standards. Airport Carbon Accreditation now has more than 150 accredited airports around the world.

Addressing Climate Change

Administered by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, on behalf of ACI EUROPE, the accreditation program recognizes the efforts of airports in managing and reducing their carbon emissions through four levels of certification: ‘Mapping’, ‘Reduction’, ‘Optimisation’ and ‘Neutrality’.

Of the 104 European airports currently accredited, 20 have the highest level of certification: a Level 3+, neutrality.

Victor Parrilla"Not only did these airports measure their carbon footprint (Level 1), managed and reduced their emission (Level 2) and engaged partners and clients to do the same (Level 3), they are now offsetting their own emissions," says Victor Parrilla, who has been working on the Airport Carbon Accreditation program as Senior Consultant, Environment & Sustainability for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff.

For example, some of these airports are sharing real-time updates on operations, reducing waiting time for takeoffs or after landing, which in turn leads to lower carbon emissions. Another example is the use of on-site renewable energy, which helps airports both reduce carbon emissions as well as energy costs.

Targeting Neutrality

In December 2015, ACI EUROPE and its members announced their plans to increase the number of carbon neutral airports from 20 to 50 by 2030. This commitment has no precedent, and shows that airports in Europe are effectively working to mitigate and reduce their impact on climate change.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff is supporting the realization of this goal through the development and implementation of a carbon neutrality road map.

There is also a large potential for growth. According to IATA’s estimates, the five fastest-increasing markets by 2034 will be:
• China (856 million new passengers)
• US (559 million)
• India (266 million)
• Indonesia (183 million)
• Brazil (170 million)

Airport Carbon Accreditation was first launched in Europe more than six years ago. The program became global in 2014 and has since welcomed significant growth in all regions. Although all carbon neutral airports are currently in Europe, airports in other regions are working towards carbon neutrality, with the aim of achieving Level 3+ in the near future.

  Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 3+
Europe 29 airports 36 airports 19 airports 20 airports 104 airports
64.6% *
Asia-Pacific 8 airports 14 airports
9 airports
- 31 airports
North America  2 airports 7 airports 2 airports - 11 airports
Latin America & Caribbean 3 airports 1 airport - - 4 airports
2 airports
1 airport - - 3 Airports

* % of total passenger of the region.