Airport emissions uncovered: new tool exposes flying’s real impact

September 29, 2021

A new airport tracker by T&E, ODI and ICCT attributes for the first time the emissions coming from flights departing airports across the world

On 8 September, the Spanish government announced that it would halt the controversial expansion of Barcelona airport. But such good news is rare. Hundreds of airports around the world plan to expand – despite the pandemic suppressing air travel – and air traffic could return to 2019 levels in just five years. 

A new airport tracker by T&E, ODI and ICCT highlights the dangers of this. For the first time, emissions can be attributed to specific airports to uncover the true extent of aviation emissions.

Passenger flights departing Europe’s five biggest airports: London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol and Madrid Barajas emit 53 million tons of CO2 – the same as the entire Swedish economy.

Jo Dardenne said: “The aviation industry is not doing enough to curb its emissions. If the airlines and manufacturers aren’t going to invest in clean fuels, we cannot justify airport expansion. Some of the world’s largest airports are already responsible for more pollution than some countries.”

Global aviation emissions grew 5% per year from 2013 to 2018 reaching 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – the 7th biggest emitter if it were a country.

The tracker also highlights the extent of untaxed emissions. The EU’s cap and trade system includes only flights that stay within Europe, meaning a huge number of highly polluting long-haul flights are let off the hook. In the case of airports like Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, up to 80% of emissions are long-haul. In comparison, the vast majority of flights leaving Venice and Krakow, for example, are short-haul and fall within the cap and trade boundaries.

Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at T&E, said: “Unlike cars or power stations, most flights go beyond national borders, leaving emissions from airports scandalously overlooked. All flights should be included in the emission trading system, not just the ones within Europe.”

Of the 348 airports in Europe, just 10 account for 42% of the region’s passenger CO2 emissions and 4 of these 10 are in just two countries (the UK and Germany). 


Explore the airport tracker

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