Climate change and Decarbonization from the Airport Operator Perspective

Karla Garcia, Head Of Sustainability and Miguel Marquez, GAP Airports

Climate change might be one of the biggest environmental problems the world is facing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded the need to keep the increase in atmospheric temperature not greater than 1.5°C to reduce the risks of climate change. To achieve this, we must reach net zero emissions by 2050.

In the Aeronautical industry, private companies and governments have joined the commitment of Net Zero. Airports are important actors when it comes to GHG emissions. All of the energy and resources that commercial airports consume to operate and handle the millions of people moving through them every day, in addition to the consumption from the aeronautical operations themselves, mean that airports have a very big opportunity to mitigate GHG emissions.

The first step for planning our carbon emissions is developing an emissions inventory. These inventories mean recognition of the stakeholders involved and impacted by the emission activities, the definition of scope, and the consolidation approach.

Airports should do an emissions inventory, recognition of the actors involved, and the development of a mitigation and compensation plan.

An inventory determines the total mass of CO2 emissions generated by airport operations on a temporal basis. Emissions are classified into three scopes:

- Scope 1: Direct emissions from airport-owned or controlled sources. This includes power plants, fleet vehicles, Ground support equipment (GSE), emergency power, fire practices, and waste disposed on site.

- Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchased energy (electricity, heat, or steam).

- Scope 3: Indirect emissions from other sources related to the activities of the airport that the airport does not control but can influence. Some examples are: Aircraft Auxiliary Power Units (APU), LTO Cycle, Ground Support Equipment (GSE), Aircraft main engines during taxiing and queuing, vehicles operated by tenants, Construction activities, waste disposed of off-site and passenger transportation to and from the airport.

The development and refinement of a carbon inventory and subsequent carbon management is a complex endeavor that requires the coordination of a significant number of stakeholders for airports. For this reason, in 2009, the ACI created the Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA), a program based on ISO14064-1 and the GHG protocol that establishes a carbon management certification standard specific to airports. It provides a framework to guide airport operators in carbon management

Airport Carbon Accreditation Programme is designed for all airports on different levels of carbon management and commitment with its 6 levels of accreditation. The ACA is constituted of 6 levels of accreditation.

Level 1 Mapping: consists of the creation of an emissions inventory, including scopes 1 and 2, as well as a policy commitment to carbon reduction

Level 2 Reduction: Emissions reduction target, carbon management plan and annual reductions

Level 3 Optimisation: Engagement of 3rd parties and measurement of their emissions through a stakeholder engagement plan

Level 3+ Neutrality: Level 3 requirements plus offsetting of residual Scope 1 and 2 emissions

Level 4 Transformation: Extended carbon footprint, absolute emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement, and enhanced 3rd party engagement

Level 4+ Transition: Level 4 requirements plus offsetting of residual Scope 1 and 2 emissions

Since 2014, ACI Latin America and Caribbean member airports have been able to get Airport Carbon Accreditation. Currently, there are 28 airports certified in level 1, 18 in level 2, and 8 in level 3, and 3 airports certified in level 3+, which is the highest level reached by any Latin American and Caribbean Airport so far.

Puerto Vallarta Airport, part of Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, was a pioneer in Latin America as the first airport to participate in the program entering level 1 in 2014. In 2022, Puerto Vallarta Airport continues to be a pioneer, seeking level 3 accreditation along with Guadalajara International Airport and Aguascalientes International Airport, which would make them the first airports in Mexico to reach this level.

We have faced challenges in developing our carbon management; once we developed our first carbon inventory, striving for the next levels of commitment was natural, and the first hurdle was reduction actions. Defining a reduction strategy has many factors, including budgeting, legal feasibility, and technological advancements. Year-by-year, reduction strategies were implemented centered on reducing fossil fuel and electricity use, renewal of the vehicular fleet, the substitution of aging and obsolete equipment, automatization of HVAC and lighting equipment, and benefiting from the sunlight we receive, solar photovoltaic panels.

In 2022, we faced our next challenge, stakeholder engagement and a scope 1, 2, and 3 inventory. Communication is key as different stakeholders have different levels of carbon management. As airport operators, we work with airlines, authorities, tenants, car rentals, travel agencies, FBOs, passengers, and many others. After months of work, we are on our way to level 3 accreditation.

But, in response to climate change, decarbonization might not be enough; the aviation industry is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We face physical risks such as changing weather patterns, increase in extreme weather events, droughts and floods. Regulatory risks from changing legal frameworks to implement decarbonization actions, and even reputational, as increased social scrutiny discourages flying.

We cannot ignore these risks, and we have a responsibility to act in our best capacity to face them. Implement resilience measures in response to physical risks, and adapt our management systems to ensure compliance with global commitments. As airport operators, we have the responsibility to ensure the safety and sustainability of the infrastructure required for aviation, but everyone involved must participate.

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