THE WAY FORWARD: Empowering airports to retain Climate Action among key priorities

June 25, 2020

We write this newsletter at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on almost all parts and aspects of human activity. The health crisis has spilled into all corners of the world, leaving no industry unaffected, but hitting aviation with particular ferocity. Across the globe we have seen thousands of airplanes grounded, arranged in neat rows on unused tarmacs, tens of thousands of employees on furlough or laid off, forced to seek alternative paths to sustain their livelihoods and millions of passengers having to cancel their plans and confine themselves to their homes. 

Yet as the world came to a standstill, airports continued to serve their communities, operating repatriation and extraordinary missions, facilitating essential cargo and medical equipment deliveries, whilst operating in difficult conditions of financial strain, and a reduced workforce faced with heightened personal safety risks and employment uncertainty. We cannot say it enough – we are in awe of our airport colleagues the world over facing these challenges with grit and positivity.

While there are differences in the gravity of the present situation across ACI regions in line with the ebbs and flows of this pandemic’s evolution, one thing is shared by all airports regardless of their location. The unprecedented extent of this health crisis and the ripples it creates across our economy triggers a dent in revenues that will be hard to patch up. In our sector, most indicators point towards a sluggish rate of recovery, marking 2023-2024 as the likely date when air connectivity will have come back to its pre-COVID span. Against this backdrop is the continued drive towards decarbonisation, which requires liquidity to invest in sustainable solutions. 

Even though in many parts of the world the crisis triggered a hiatus in what otherwise would be an exponential growth in emissions, experts have warned repeatedly that the pandemic could accelerate emission rise in the period immediately after. It is a worrying trend, one that we at Airport Carbon Accreditation would like to address early on, at least within our scope of action. 

As with every crisis, there is a hidden opportunity in the current pandemic as well. It seems that many sectors have been pushed to a complete reboot of their modus operandi and now need to start from scratch. While we grieve the losses it incurred, we also want to look on the bright side and echo our colleagues at Heathrow Airport – let’s “build back better”.

These deliberations have brought us to a set of targeted decisions aimed at empowering airports to continue what they started more than a decade ago. As a result, a set of temporary changes to the rules of Airport Carbon Accreditation introduced with immediate effect will guide the growing community of climate- smart airports through the present storm, whilst keeping their carbon management frameworks firmly in place. Once the dust has settled, our goal is that these adjustments will support a smoother transition to a “new normal”, in which airport climate action will play an even greater role. 

With much in store for the coming months, we look forward to enabling airports’ individual journeys towards more sustainable operations and working towards the collective goal of carbon-free air travel. This crisis has taught us that we’re capable of the extraordinary in extremis. Together, we can look forward to continuity of action against the ongoing Climate Crisis when the immediate threat of the coronavirus has subsided.