For more than 10 years, the airport industry has embraced the global Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme, which provides a certification framework for airport carbon emissions management and reduction. This voluntary initiative was co-developed by Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and WSP, 4 and has become the international global standard for managing airport carbon emissions to support a climate-smart future. It has grown to include more than 330 airports, collectively located in more than 70 countries.
ACA delivers carbon-emissions improvements, as a combination of reductions and offsets, exceeding 1 million tonnes every year, and already has more than 60 airports certified as carbon neutral. In 2019, the ACI Europe Resolution committed Europe’s airports to be net-zero carbon by 2050 for emissions directly under their control. More recently, in 2020, ACA introduced two new accreditation levels, Transformation and Transition, which commit airports to an emissions reduction trajectory consistent with keeping a global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Aviation’s continued commitment to address emissions from aircraft—the main source of sector emissions—is well represented by CORSIA, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations agency. CORSIA, an international sector-based approach to carbon-emissions reductions and offsetting, entered a pilot phase this year.
Whilst offsetting has a very important role to play in the transition to zero-carbon aviation, ultimately aircraft will need low- and zero-carbon fuels and radically different propulsion technologies, as outlined in IATA’s Aircraft Technology Roadmap.5
Designing the Path to 2050
Whilst the recovery in global passenger traffic post-pandemic is likely to take some time, over the longer term the number of people flying is still expected to increase significantly, potentially doubling to 8.2 billion in 2037 from 4.4 billion in 2018.6 More aircraft and more ground infrastructure will be needed to support this significant growth.
The rise in air travel traffic is expected to outpace the gains made in reducing aircraft emissions through efficiency measures and technological advances over the next 20–30 years. Despite this unsettling projection, initiatives launched by ICAO, IATA and ACI, demonstrate that meaningful progress is achievable—through close attention to each impact point in the emissions chain. Progress also requires greater collaboration between the main players in the sector, perhaps along the lines of the recently launched UK Sustainable Aviation coalition.7 This effort brings together airlines, airports, manufacturers and air navigation service providers in a collective approach to developing a low-carbon future.