Tue 4 Dec 2018 – Heathrow Airport has signalled its intention that by the time its proposed third runway begins operations in 2026 all new growth will be carbon neutral. This would mean that growth in emissions from additional flights after expansion would be offset through carbon credits. It expects 95% of flights departing Heathrow in 2026 to be covered by the global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme and the airport aims to offset any remainder. Heathrow wants to play a major role in helping the aviation sector act on carbon emissions through four key areas: cleaner aircraft technology; improvements to airspace and ground operations; sustainable aviation fuels; and developing and promoting new ways of carbon offsetting. Using offsetting as an interim measure, it is planning to make the airport’s own energy use carbon neutral from 2020.
Announcing the publication of Heathrow’s Carbon Neutral Growth Roadmap, the airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our generation. But it is not aviation that’s the enemy – it is carbon. We are committed to taking the lead to deliver carbon neutral growth in aviation, and the plan we are launching sets out the roadmap to get there.”
In a foreword to the roadmap, which is part of Heathrow’s 2.0 sustainability strategy launched last year, he says a 1.5 degree world requires net zero emissions by the middle of the century. “That will mean the transformation of every part of the world economy, and aviation is no exception,” he writes. “I believe that we can decouple growth in aviation from growth in carbon emissions. And we can even start moving towards zero carbon aviation. The challenge is to get carbon out of the global economy as quickly and cheaply as possible.”
Heathrow says it will use its leadership and market position “to capitalise on the opportunities from expansion to ensure growth is met in a responsible and sustainable way.”
To incentivise and attract the use of cleaner and quieter aircraft at Heathrow, the airport says it will continue to offer cheaper landing fees and also preferential consideration on slot allocation for new flights based on environmental performance.
In anticipation of the future introduction of short-haul electric passenger aircraft, it is also offering free landing fees for a year for the first commercially viable electric flight and, through its new Heathrow Centre of Excellence for Sustainability, will review the infrastructure requirements for charging electric aircraft. Heathrow is also calling for continued government help in providing support for R&D into new aircraft technologies and policies for making the UK a world leader in electric propulsion.
On airspace, Heathrow claims it is already the world’s most efficient airport, given the number of flights that are operated with two runways. It says a consultation on plans to further modernise airspace around Heathrow has already started and next month will publish the second of three consultations on future airspace. It is supporting the government’s own plans on modernising UK airspace that include the potential elimination of routine stacking of aircraft coming into land.
On the ground, the airport is continuing efforts to cut aircraft emissions through increasing access to on-stand power sources and reducing taxi times. To encourage efficient practices such as turning off one or more engines when taxiing, Heathrow says it is working with airlines and its air traffic control provider NATS to maximise the practice.
Heathrow also wants to become a leading hub for the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels and is pledging to provide the necessary airport infrastructure and support for pilot projects. It says it is already providing “in-kind support” to the LanzaTech/Virgin Atlantic renewable jet fuel project and is looking at how such fuels can be received and distributed in its pipelines.
“This could play an important role as smaller deliveries of fuel arrive for mixing at the airport by rail or road in the early days of the market’s development,” says Heathrow. “We are consulting with airlines on the role that landing charges can play in incentivising uptake of sustainable fuels. We also want to explore with local authorities whether sites in the area around Heathrow could also be suitable locations for sustainable fuel plants in the future.”
The airport believes ICAO should develop a roadmap that projects the uptake of sustainable fuels around the world, the policies needed to achieve this and set global goals for uptake.
Heathrow says it is a long-standing supporter of carbon pricing and its fourth objective is to play a lead role in developing the “next generation” of high quality, cost-effective carbon offsetting in the UK. It recently funded a pilot project to restore 70 hectares of peatland in the north-west of the UK, which Heathrow says will help offset a portion of the airport’s own facilities to achieve its 2020 goal of carbon neutral infrastructure.
Peatland covers around 10% of the UK but 80% of it is downgraded and emitting around 16 million tonnes of carbon a year, which, points out Heathrow, is a similar level emitted currently by flights from Heathrow. Over time, restored peatland begins to sequester carbon too, as well as delivering other benefits such as encouraging more biodiversity. A standard, called the Peatland Code, is in operation for UK peatland projects wishing to access the voluntary carbon market. It sets out a series of best practice requirements that include a standard method of quantification to be validated by an independent body.
Heathrow says there is an opportunity to channel funding from international flights to deliver significant funding for what it sees as high-quality UK offsets, and will be making a case with the UK government and ICAO for UK peatland to be eligible under CORSIA emissions unit rules.
Heathrow also wants to work with airlines and look at voluntary offsetting by individuals and corporates to provide investment for carbon projects and new technologies. It cites as an example the Swedish airport operator Swedavia’s involvement in the ‘Fly Green Fund’ that creates investment for sustainable aviation fuels.
“We want to explore policies that price carbon while contributing to the goal of fair and equitable access to air travel for all,” it says, adding that “it is open to exploring with stakeholders how UK Air Passenger Duty could be improved to help contribute to tackling climate change.”
Heathrow’s carbon neutral growth aspiration also applies to emissions from ground transportation for passengers and staff and the embodied carbon resulting from construction of a third runway.
Lastly, Heathrow calls on the UK government to engage ICAO and other Member States to agree a 2050 goal for aviation emissions. Since the aviation industry set a goal in 2008 to halve net emissions by 2050, other sectors, such as shipping, have set their own long-term goals and the latest IPCC assessment outlines the need to reach net zero emissions globally by the middle of the century, it argues.
“The aviation sector now needs to define what that scientific advice means for us,” says Heathrow. “We want to work with our industry partners, the UK and other governments, and ICAO to define the right long-term goal for aviation, and the right package of measures to achieve it.”
Concluding his foreword, Holland-Kaye writes: “Our plans are good, but we will need to keep improving. We don’t have the answers to everything – part of our leadership role is to pose the difficult questions and work with our partners in the aviation sector and beyond to answer them. We will need critical friends to challenge us where they think we are not doing enough or where there are gaps. Changing an entire global industry to tackle climate change is no easy task. But by working together we can make the difference.”
Heathrow says it is planning a series of roundtable events during 2019 to bring together government, industry, NGOs and communities to discuss its plans and “drive change in the sector faster”.
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