New research showing the significant health issues of air traffic

by | 22 Feb 2024 | New reports, Press Release

NEW research shows just 20 airports produced the equivalent CO2 emissions of 58 coal plants

  • Launched today, the 2024 ‘Airport Tracker’ – an update to the first global inventory of CO2 and local air pollutants from passenger and freight flights – shows the scale of aviation emissions at the airport level. The Airport Tracker is supported by research from Stay Grounded and UECNA showing the significant health issues of air traffic.
  • New research shows that the top 20 most polluting airports produced the same amount of dangerous Nitrogen Oxides and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) as 31 million passenger cars in 2019.
  • Just 20 airports generated 231 million tonnes of CO2, the same amount as 58 coal plants in 2019, the year for which latest data is available.
  • In 2019 alone, the most polluting airport, Dubai International, produced the same emissions as 5 coal plants.
  • In 2019, London’s six airports generated the same amount of air pollution as 3.23 million cars.

NEW research from global affairs thinktank ODI, in partnership with Transport & Environment and with data provided by the International Council on Clean Transportation, reveals the climate and air quality impacts of 1300 airports. The updated 2024 Airport Tracker, a global inventory of CO2 and air pollution at the airport level, shows the disproportionate climate and health impact of just a small number of airports.

The research found that in 2019, combining impacts of passenger and freight transport, Dubai International Airport produced the equivalent CO2 emissions of 5.03 coal plants, while Heathrow produced the equivalent of 4.77 coal plants. Many cities have multiple airports, multiplying their impact; London’s 6 airports together produced 27 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 alone and 8,900 tonnes of NOx and 83 tonnes of PM2.5.

ODI’s report is supported by new research from Stay Grounded, a network aimed at reducing air traffic and building a climate-just transport system, and UECNA, an umbrella for airport community groups. Their new report also released today shows significant health consequences of the aviation sector, and outlines steps to counter climate, air and noise pollution. Globally, air pollution is the 4th largest risk factor for human health, killing 6.7 million people in 2019, and in 2018, air pollution had associated economic costs of £166 billion (€193 billion) to the European economy.

This new research draws the aviation sector’s decarbonization strategy into focus, which hedges on a sharp increase in the supply of expensive Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs). Currently, SAFs account for only 0.1% of jet fuel consumption and effective decarbonization would require production increasing from a few hundred million litres today to over 400 billion litres by 2050. Expected efficiency gains from technological advancements are likely to be offset by increased demand as the industry bounces back; in November 2023, demand had already reached 99% of pre-pandemic levels, with growth expected to increase by a further 4.2% per year from 2024 onwards. If current growth trajectories continue and the uptake of clean technologies does not accelerate, emissions generated by airports will boom, putting millions of people at risk.

  • The 2024 Airport Tracker is now live and can be found here
  • For the ODI and T&E full report on emissions at the airport level, see here.
  • For Stay Grounded’s report on health impacts of aviation, see here.

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Magdalena Heuwieser, Press Officer from Stay Grounded said “Aircraft noise levels are continuously exceeded, and we completely lack EU standards on ultrafine particles, which are a major health hazard. Some key measures must be taken immediately to protect the health of workers and communities surrounding airports – like night flight bans, or simple jet fuel improvements to have at least the same standards as car fuel. But technology won’t solve the whole problem, a reduction of the number of flights is most effective and needed.”

Shandelle Steadman, Senior Research Officer at ODI said “This research shows the gaps in decarbonizing aviation. Airports aren’t reporting these emissions and often slip under the radar, but without tackling localized emissions at the airport level, the sector’s climate and health impact will only worsen; damaging our health, livelihoods and climate.”

Sam Pickard, Research Associate at ODI, said “Airports are long-term infrastructure, so choices now affect climate and air quality far into the future. More has to be done to recognise these impacts and limit expansion in many parts of the world

Jo Dardenne, Aviation Director at T&E said “Pollution around airports is growing year on year. It affects millions of people, who breathe in toxic emissions and develop health conditions as a result, yet policy makers are brushing the problem under the carpet. Exponential growth of the sector and airports is incompatible with their climate goals, especially considering the slow uptake of clean technologies. The sector led us to believe that they would bounce back better after the pandemic; they’ve certainly bounced back, but without action, the sector’s climate and health impact isn’t going to get any better”

Press Contact

Magdalena Heuwieser
Email: press(ät)stay-grounded.org
Phone: +43 670 353 43 11

ENDS

About Stay Grounded
Stay Grounded is a network for 215 member initiatives around the world, including community groups surrounding airports, NGOs, and trade unions. The network campaigns for a fair reduction of aviation and for a just mobility system that works for all, now and in the future.

About ODI
ODI is an independent, global affairs think tank. We work to inspire people to act on injustice and inequality. Through research, convening and influencing, we generate ideas that matter for people and planet.

About Transport & Environment
Transport & Environment (T&E), is an European umbrella for non-governmental organisations working in the field of transport and the environment, promoting sustainable transport in Europe. T&E’s vision is a zero-emission mobility system that is affordable and has minimal impacts on our health, climate and environment.

About UECNA
UECNA is the European Union against Aircraft Nuisances, representing airport communities at the EU and at the International Civil Aviation Organisation. It also supports organisations and citizens with expert advice and by exchanging information, experience and best practices.

About the International Council on Clean Transportation
The ICCT is an independent research organization providing first-rate, unbiased research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators. Our mission is to improve the environmental performance and energy efficiency of road, marine, and air transportation, in order to benefit public health and mitigate climate change.