Airports are undertaking strong efforts to adapt to the impact of climate change and boost climate-resilience

Juliana Scavuzzi

We spoke to Juliana Scavuzzi, Senior Director for Sustainability, Environmental Protection & Legal Affairs at Airports Council International - ACI World about climate change risks for aviation.

Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. How seriously do airports around the world take the threats that are predicted to come with rising temperatures?

This is a global challenge requiring a global response and airports recognise that they must play an important part of global climate action. While airport emissions account for 2% of the total global 2-3% from aviation, airports have been taking active steps to address the environmental impact of operations for decades as a key part of the aviation industry. Just recently, ACI World with support from their membership and partners established a world decarbonisation goal that airports at a global level can commit to to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and urge governments to provide the necessary support in this endeavour. The long-term carbon goal is a crucial component of the aviation industry’s contribution towards this global effort in mitigating the effects of climate change.

EUROCONTROL will shortly release a study recognising the links between climate change effects and disruption to the European aviation network. Among others, it identifies a potential climate change-driven increase in delay and changes in fuel burn and flight times. What is your view on these findings?

These findings are very similar to the risks ACI World identified in the policy brief on Airports’ Resilience and Adaptation to a Changing Climate. Climate stressors such as rising temperature, increased storm intensity and changes in precipitation are all anticipated to result in service disruptions. As a networked infrastructure, disruptions in one airport may have a cascading impact on other airports, the wider economy, and even national resilience. An inclusive, systematic approach to collect intelligence, assess risks, and interact proactively with these stakeholders will help mitigate long-term financial, economic and operational impacts.

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Higher temperatures are associated with increasingly severe weather events and flooding. Which precautions are airports taking to mitigate the effects of climate change?

The risks associated with extreme weather events and impacts of climate change are well understood by airports, many of which are in the design phase or assessment phase of performing infrastructure upgrades to mitigate the impacts of these climate stressors. Measures such as upgrading stormwater infrastructure, elevating critical electrical assets and implementing permeable pavement or nature-based solutions to help with stormwater drainage are only a few examples of the measure airports are taking to protect their assets.

What else can and should we do to build resilience to climate change?

As noted in ACI World’s policy brief on Airports’ Resilience and Adaptation to a Changing Climate, airport members are encouraged to conduct risk assessments, develop mitigation measures and communication channels, and take climate resilience and adaptation into consideration for their master plans. It is important that airports take timely action as delaying action could be more costly in the long run. In addition, it is necessary to embed resilience in airport planning, infrastructure and operations, including their decarbonisation initiatives.

In your opinion, what can aviation actors, from airspace users to airports, to policy-makers and EUROCONTROL, do to make aviation more sustainable faster?

In line with the recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change – everyone should commit to mitigating the effects of climate change to stay below 1.5 degrees. As mentioned, ACI World recently established a world decarbonisation goal that airports at a global level can commit to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This was in addition to ACI Europe’s Net Zero Carbon commitment announced in June of 2019. As part of our recent study, ACI World mapped out a series of recommended actions that define our role, our airport members’ role and the role of governments and other stakeholders to reach the global goal. These included advocating for ambitious grid decarbonisation policies, government incentives to support decarbonisation measures, establishing roundtables with airport leaders and key stakeholders to support policy engagement and advocacy, developing mentorship programmes, and supporting the development of decarbonisation roadmaps. We also published a working paper on the reasons and recommendations to support and strategise sustainability and climate change action amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The importance of building resilience has never been so evident as with the catastrophic impacts felt by the aviation sector. Some of the recommendations included to remain apprised of the potential environmental criteria for government bailouts, public/private investments and use existing and new knowledge on crisis management and recovery, identifying opportunities and engage with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders to support securing government and private investments, using policy development, which increases the feasibility of decarbonisation, and continue to define concrete, individual roadmaps with interim milestones towards net zero.

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