Research Projects

Potential Airport Pathways to Net Zero Carbon Emissions: Who, What, When, Where, & How? In Reserve

As air travel rebounds from the COVID pandemic, the aviation industry will again be under increasing public pressure (i.e. flight shaming) to decarbonize its operations to align with the global goal of "net zero carbon emissions by 2050." Some airports are already being asked by local officials, regulatory agencies, and NGOs to identify their planned strategies and milestones to meet this long-term target. The proposed project would assess how other sectors, such as universities and manufacturing facilities, have successfully developed pathways to achieve Net Zero Emissions, despite the inherent technological and cost uncertainties. The project would also develop recommendations on how recent commitments by airlines and other key stakeholders could be leveraged and integrated by airports in creating their own Net Zero Emissions pathway.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

Airports across the US have successfully implemented a wide array of projects, programs, and policies to reduce carbon emissions associated with their operations. However, airports are under increasing public scrutiny by elected officials, environmental organizations, and community members (i.e. flight shaming) to more drastically reduce their emissions to align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's target of "Net Zero Emissions" by 2050. Some industry experts even predict that this external pressure will only increase now that air travel and its associated emissions have been temporarily reduced due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Zero Net Emissions generally means that any greenhouse gases emitted are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, without the use of carbon offsets. Over the last couple years, nearly 200 major companies and organizations have set emissions reduction targets that align with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. These entities can serve as valuable examples for airports and the broader aviation industry, interested in defining a pathway to achieve Net Zero Emissions.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The objective of this research project is to develop an array of suggested "pathways" for airports interested in achieving Net Zero Emissions by 2050, by assessing other sectors' successes in developing these strategies to align with global carbon reduction targets and by offering recommendations for interested airports.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

- WHO: Identify organizations and industries (for example, universities, manufacturing facilities, or other campus-type settings), which are proactively identifying strategies to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

- WHAT: Compile case studies from these examples, noting similarities and differences in their planning approaches and identified strategies.

- WHEN: Discuss the use of interim milestones as "stepping stones" to meet the 2050 goal, especially as it relates to overcoming inherent financial and technological uncertainties.

- WHERE: Discuss any regionally-driven differences in the case studies (such as varying percentages of renewable power within electricity grid).

- HOW: Provide recommendations, based upon the above research, for airports interested in creating their own Net Zero Emissions pathway, including how recent commitments by airlines and other key stakeholders could be leveraged and integrated by airports.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

ACRP Synthesis 53: Outcomes of Green Initiatives: Large Airport Experience.

ACRP Synthesis 100: Airport Greenhouse Gas Reduction Efforts.

ACRP Report 57: The Carbon Market: A Primer for Airports.

ACRP Report 80: Guidebook for Incorporating Sustainability into Traditional Airport Projects.

ACRP Report 02-82: Developing a Roadmap to Achieve Zero Emissions at Airports. [Study was limited to ground transportation electrification]

ACI World: Long-Term Carbon Goal Report

Idea No. 708