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WSP Genivar is working with airports around

the world to cut their emissions, helping to ensure that rapid expansion in air travel has a minimal impact on climate change

Airports can’t be sustainable,

right? Not so fast. As with many aspects of sustainability, the true picture is much more complex.

Globally, the aviation industry accounts for 2% of manmade carbon emissions from fuel combustion, and 12% of transport emissions. Most of those emissions are made by aircraft themselves, in flight or on the ground, and airports are estimated to contribute less than 5% of the total.

“In percentage terms, the environmental impact is comparatively small compared to other modes of transport,” says Léonie Dobbie, head of sustainable aviation and airports at WSP Genivar. “Emissions from aviation are forecast to grow by between 3% and 5% by 2050, but the industry is far ahead of others in

By 2050, the aim is to

achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 50%


managing its emissions – it was one of the first to agree global targets.”

No successful industry can afford to ignore its contribution to climate change, she argues. “Adopting sustainability as a long-term goal is now essential to business success over time – industries that have done this have generally tended to perform better than those that have not.”

Public scrutiny of aviation’s contribution to climate change has proved to be a force for change, as the industry acts ahead of regulation. Back in 2008, the airport community agreed to reduce carbon emissions from its operations, with the ultimate aim of becoming carbon neutral. In 2009, airlines agreed a cap on aviation carbon emissions from 2020, along with fuel efficiency improvements of 1.5% per year from 2008 to 2020. By 2050, the aim is to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions of 50% compared to 2005 levels.

Dobbie and her team have helped airports around the world to improve their performance – and to grow as a result. “Sustainability is essential to the future of aviation,” she says. “Adopting sustainable goals helps drive and improve financial

performance and preserve the industry’s licence to grow.”

A key initiative for raising standards is the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, established in 2009 by the Airport Council International Europe and co-authored and administered by WSP Genivar. This provides a framework for airports to measure, report and reduce their carbon emissions, working towards carbon neutrality through four levels of accreditation. By May 2013, 75 airports in Europe had been accredited, representing 58.6% of European air traffic, as well as nine in Asia-Pacific, or 15% of Asia-Pacific air travel. Worldwide, this covers 21.7% of passenger traffic. Of those 84 airports, 14 have achieved carbon neutrality and 12 are accredited at the rung below, a rise from 10 and eight respectively in 2012.

Dobbie says that the key challenge for operators is that the greatest part of an airport’s environmental impact comes from aircraft and surface transport emissions – over which operators have no direct control. “That means that an airport’s success in controlling its total emissions depends on the environmental and management

systems it has in place, and on encouraging their stakeholders and partners to work towards common goals.”

In a broader sense, the aviation industry also makes a positive contribution to global sustainability: “Airports support many high added-value industries in the service and industrial sectors. As a catalyst for economic and social change, aviation helps to drive greener growth and is critical to all three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and environmental.”


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