What is Net Zero?

In a nutshell, “Net Zero carbon emissions” is the state our global civilisation needs to reach by 2050 at the latest, in order to avoid the most acute repercussions of Climate Change. The scientific evidence, in particular the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) October 2018, shows the level of urgency has never been higher to address the impact of our actions on the Climate. Net Zero in the definition proposed by IPCC is explained as the state “when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period.” In other words, to achieve that, we need to either stop producing new CO2 or compensate for any emission by pulling out the already existing emissions from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Whilst much has been done to tackle emissions from aviation, in a “business-as-usual” scenario these emissions are still set to increase, due to lack of clear-cut solutions to decarbonise aviation, teamed with rising demand. However, as the aforementioned IPCC report underlines: “urgent and drastic action to limit Global warming in line with the Paris Agreement” is needed, including “unprecedented and deep emissions reductions in all sectors”. This means that Global emissions should decline by 45% by 2030 and reach Net Zero by 2050. Aviation will need to play its part in this global effort and look for ways to decarbonise rapidly.

Airports have bold ambition in this regard, with experience in carbon management dating back over a decade, when the awareness of the climate emergency was still in a relatively nascent stage. Building on experience of consistent carbon management and reduction within the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, European airports have again come to the fore. In their landmark Resolution adopted in June 2019, they committed to Net Zero carbon emissions from operations fully within their own control by 2050 at the latest. Going beyond that, they have called on all industry stakeholders to jointly work on the development of a shared ambition, roadmap and vision for the entire air transport system to be Net Zero.

To reach their commitment, European airports will reduce their absolute emissions to the furthest extent possible and address any remaining emissions through investment in carbon removal and storage. This means that the Net Zero 2050 commitment requires airports to reduce their emissions ideally down to zero.

To do so, airports can:
• reduce energy and fuel consumption through the design of new energy-efficient infrastructure and the retrofitting of existing infrastructure
• invest in low energy vehicles and equipment
• switch to zero-carbon energy and fuel sources.

To reduce any residual emissions, airports have to use the so-called Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs). NETs rely on natural processes (‘carbon sinks’ such as forests) or dedicated technologies (carbon capture and storage) to eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere.

Airports are willing to pull their weight in accelerating the decarbonisation of the aviation industry as a whole. They can facilitate the introduction of low emissions aircraft technologies and operations, the deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuels or charging infrastructure for electrified aircraft operations and much more. This collaborative approach is essential to unlocking the full potential of CO2-reducing opportunities and finding novel measures faster. Through their Net Zero Resolution, ACI EUROPE and its members express their determination to actively support these changes to meet the critical challenge of Climate Change. Given the scope of the task at hand, we need all hands on deck to succeed.

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For further information please contact

Marina Bylinsky
Head of Sustainability