According to The Airport Tracker, an online tool developed by the International Council on Clean Transportation, The Overseas Development Institute, and Transport and Environment, Europe’s five biggest airports emit more CO2 emissions each year than the whole of Sweden.

Combined, London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Madrid Barajas create 53 million tonnes worth of passenger-related emissions each year, compared to the 45.4 million tonnes produced by Sweden last year. 

While Sweden’s emissions continue to decline – having fallen by an average of 700,000 tonnes annually over the last decade – it is feared airport emissions could go the opposite way, with all five having announced plans for expansion in recent years. 

While plans to construct a new terminal at Charles de Gaulle have been scrapped on environmental grounds, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has continued to support the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, in spite of the Court of Appeal ruling the plans threatened the UK’s climate targets.

Despite these concerns, Europe’s leading airports have committed to achieving the carbon targets set out by governments across the continent — but what are they doing to reduce their carbon emissions?


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London Heathrow

Following a £100m investment in improving energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, London Heathrow announced last year that it had achieved carbon neutrality for the parts of the airports it controls. 

While this doesn’t include emissions created by its suppliers, terminal retailers, or flight operators, the airport is working towards achieving zero carbon by the mid-2030s.

According to its ‘Target Net Zero’ plan, Heathrow intends to develop a new approach to landing charges that will incentivise airlines that use its runways to switch to clean fuel alternatives.

At a recent G7 summit, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye pressed world leaders to commit to mandates for the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which can reduce carbon emissions from flying by as much as 70%, and pricing incentives that would help to get the sector off the ground.

Likewise, Heathrow has also begun to offer passengers that travel through the airport the opportunity to offset their emissions by purchasing SAF, which it hopes will help to show there is consumer demand for cleaner alternatives.


Paris Charles de Gaulle

For several years, operator Groupe ADP has sought to reduce carbon emissions at Paris Charles de Gaulle, with CO2 emissions falling by 65% since 2009. To reduce its own emissions, the group has committed to developing renewable energy sources, renovating and constructing low-energy buildings, and replacing service vehicles with electric alternatives. 

Some 15% of Paris Charles de Gaulle’s energy consumption already comes from renewable sources, and that figure is only set to grow. Last year, Groupe ADP signed a direct power purchase agreement which will see it source 47 GWh of solar energy from three new photovoltaic parks built specifically to serve ADP’s needs. The supply is set to provide 10% of the total power required to operate the group’s three Paris locations.

Today, Groupe ADP is responsible for just 4% of CO2 emissions at its airports. However, the group isn’t only committed to reducing its own impact, but is also actively working with its partners to reduce indirect emissions. 

Initiatives include reducing aircraft taxiing time, supplying electric and air-conditioning or heat to aircraft on the ground, and developing eco-friendly transport to get to and from its airports, as well as moving around them internally.

Likewise, the group recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Air Liquide and Airbus to lay the groundwork for hydrogen infrastructure deployment at its airports, in anticipation of the future arrival of carbon-free, hydrogen-powered commercial flights.


Frankfurt Airport

In line with the German government’s Climate Action Plan, airport operator Fraport hopes to reduce CO2 emissions at Frankfurt Airport by approximately 53% to 80,000 tonnes (not including flights) per year by 2030. Likewise, the operator has also committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

“The goal is for Frankfurt Airport’s power requirements to be met almost entirely by renewable energy sources,” Dieter Hulick, a spokesperson for the group, explains. 

Fraport is leveraging savings in four areas, Hulick says, in order to meet its goal: energy consumption in infrastructure, energy consumption in traffic and transport, energy mix, and smart air conditioning.

Since July, Frankfurt Airport has been receiving some of its energy from an onshore wind farm. As part of a power purchase agreement, Fraport intends to agree upon the delivery of up to 350GWh of green electricity annually with an offshore operator by 2025. 

However, the airport operator is also taking steps to create its own sustainable energy supply. A large-scale photovoltaic system is currently being built at the airport which will generate over 1.5m kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, with plans to construct another photovoltaic plant on top of its Terminal 3 car park. With further projects planned, Fraport hopes 94% of Frankfurt’s electricity share will come from green sources by 2030.


Amsterdam Schiphol

The Dutch government intends to reduce the Netherlands’ greenhouse gas emissions by 49% by 2030, and 95% by 2050. Schiphol has set itself a loftier goal of becoming a carbon positive airport in that time. Running entirely on solar, wind and thermal energy, Royal Schiphol Group hopes that the airport will not only eliminate carbon emissions, but produce more green energy than it uses.

Schiphol’s commitment to green energy can be seen throughout the airport, from the 6,000 solar panels on top of the long-stay car park, to the thermal energy storage systems that require far less gas power to maintain the temperature of its buildings.

Since 2018, Schiphol Group airports have run entirely on wind power, which is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 92,000 tonnes annually. Passengers are shuttled from gate to plane using electric buses, estimated to eliminate approximately 500 tonnes of CO2 annually, with plans to phase out all fossil fuel-powered vehicles over the coming years, from baggage tractors, to hotel shuttles.

Soon enough, aircraft could also be shuttled to and from the runway sustainably. Together with a consortium of Dutch aviation leaders, Schiphol has devised a roadmap that will see sustainable taxiing become standard procedure at the airport by 2030. 

Starting with a pilot study next year, the sustainable taxiing process will see aircraft taken to and from the runway by a semi-robotic system, which will allow engines to remain turned off for a longer period of time. Requiring drastic changes to infrastructure, processes and technology, Schiphol intends to become the first airport in the world to introduce sustainable taxiing on a large scale.

“Royal Schiphol Group aims to create value for society and the economy. We care about the wellbeing of our employees, neighbours, passengers and business partners, as well as future generations. The UN sustainable development goals indicate clearly that we are the last generation to stop climate change,” says Denise Pronk, sustainability manager at Royal Schiphol Group. 

“Airports are enablers for the aviation sector to become sustainable. To operate the most sustainable airports in the world, Royal Schiphol Group is pushing the envelope to contribute to a net-zero-carbon aviation sector by 2050.”


Madrid-Barajas Airport

Madrid-Barajas operator Aena recently published its ‘Climate Action Plan’, which details plans for €550m worth of investment that it hopes will lead to a 94% reduction in passenger emissions associated with Aena’s own operations by 2030, and net-zero by 2040.

Among the actions being taken by Aena include its ambitious solar energy plans. Through a €250m investment in photovoltaic panels, the operator hopes to generate most of its power through solar by 2026, reducing its carbon emissions by an estimated 40% to 167,000 tonnes by 2025.

Likewise, the operator has also committed to replacing equipment, systems and vehicles throughout its airports with alternatives that run on clean alternatives, such as renewable energy and biofuels.

However, Aena isn’t only focused on reducing its direct impact, but also of the companies that operate and pass through its terminals. 

“Aena is not only committed to cutting carbon emissions in its own operations but has also set out specific actions to drive decarbonisation of airlines, handling agents and service providers, and includes measures to foster the decarbonisation of travel to and from the airport,” Cristina Díaz Río, a spokesperson for Madrid-Barajas Airport, says.

The airport has installed a network of electric charging stations in its car parks to encourage sustainable travel to and from the airport, while it is also seeking new collaborative measures and improvements with its partners to enhance the efficiency of airport operations to reduce wait times and delays. 

Likewise, it is also taking action to unlock the production and distribution of sustainable aviation fuel. Through a partnership with Avikor, any passengers travelling from Madrid-Barajas can offset their emissions by paying towards SAFs.