Airport confirms latest emission reduction milestone following £100m clean tech investment programme
Heathrow Airport today announced it has achieved ‘carbon neutral’ status for its infrastructure, making it one of the world’s first aviation hubs to achieve the sustainability landmark, following £100m of investment in energy efficiency measures and renewable energy.
The investment means the airport now operates one of the UK’s biggest electric vehicle (EV) fleets and charging networks while powering all its terminals with renewable energy.
As a result, it has reduced carbon emissions from airport buildings and infrastructure by 93 per cent compared to 1990 levels. The remaining seven per cent of infrastructure emissions – including those from heating – will be offset through tree planting projects in Indonesia and Mexico certified through the Verified Carbon Standard, the firm said. It described the offsetting projects as an interim measure while it worked towards making its infrastructure fully zero carbon by the mid-2030s.
The firm also committed a further £1.8m today to piloting UK natural carbon capture projects through 2020. The additional investment from the airport will help to kick-start the restoration of natural UK carbon sinks, including peatlands, woodlands, and farming soils, starting with a native woodland creation project at Ledmore near Ullapool in Scotland.
“Making our infrastructure entirely carbon neutral is a significant milestone and a testament to the determination of our airport to help spearhead a new era of sustainable aviation,” said Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.
“Our sights are now set on working with the global aviation industry to deliver on net-zero by 2050, at the latest. We can and will cut the environmental cost of flying whilst keeping the benefits of travel for future generations.”
Heathrow launched its carbon neutral goal in 2018, outlining plans to decarbonise its operations through a new Carbon Neutral Roadmap, published shortly after the airport’s plans for a third runway were given the go-ahead by then Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
However, some environmental campaigners have criticised the plans, arguing they were designed to help justify a third runway that critics maintain runs counter to the UK’s decarbonisation goals. Indeed, Heathrow’s own statistics show that the airport’s operational and energy infrastructure account for just one per cent of its total emissions – compared to 89 per cent generated by aircraft cruising above 3000 feet.
Construction of the third runway is scheduled to start in 2021 before it becomes fully operational in 2026. Proponents of airport expansion argue it is necessary for boosting jobs and growth, and that advances in aviation technology will enable the additional runway to operate within long-term carbon emissions and air quality goals.
Similar controversy surrounds the decarbonisation plans of the UK aviation industry as a whole, which pledged at the start of this month to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 in its Decarbonisation Roadmap.
The roadmap relies principally on the use of carbon offsets, improved aircraft and engine efficiency, and the development of sustainable aviation fuels to achieve its carbon neutral goals.
The reliance on carbon offsetting – the biggest single contributor to achieving the net zero goal according to the roadmap’s strategy – has led some environmental groups to be sceptical of the plans, with Greenpeace dismissing them as “greenwash”.
“Carbon offsetting is simply an excuse to carry on with business as usual while shifting the responsibility to cut emissions to someone else, somewhere else, and some other time,” said John Sauven, executive director at the campaign group.
However, the industry remains optimistic that new technologies and the expansion of new offset schemes, including the introduction of a UN-backed international offset scheme known as CORSIA, will enable it to meet its goals. As such, Heathrow hopes its work to cut its operational emissions and pioneer the use of nature-based emission reduction projects can provide both a template for other airports and large energy users to follow, and a boost to the offset market that is likely to play a key role in curbing overall aviation emissions.