Lately, plenty of airlines have been talking about setting science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. This means that they have engaged with the Science Based Targets initiative, or SBTi for short, to determine how much they need to cut CO2 emissions to stay in line with the Paris Agreement to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2° C. But what is at stake for the aviation industry if those targets are not met?
Hundreds of airports at risk
Setting aside the apparent disasters that would befall humankind in general if the world does not succeed in coming together and meeting the task leaders set themselves in the French capital in 2016, global warming of 2°C would alter the aviation landscape in several monumental ways. One of these includes placing at least 100 airports under water due to rising sea levels.
By 2050, that mirage-like deadline by which the industry has pledged to reach net-zero emissions, sea levels along the US coastline are set to rise by another half meter. Last year, a Newcastle University School of Engineering study found that a global temperature rise of 2°C, which the Paris Agreement aims to prevent, would put 100 airports across the world below sea level. A further 364 airports would be at risk of coastal flooding.
Flooding and increased hurricane strength already causing major disruptions
Flooding is already being felt at major airports across the globe. In September 2021, New York Newark temporarily halted flights after severe flooding in New Jersey due to torrential rain from Hurricane Ida. A few years prior, typhoon Jebi and its storm surge of three meters forced the closure of Kansai International Airport (KIX) which serves Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. The airport is built on a manmade island, and the bridge connecting it to the mainland was damaged when an ocean tanker slammed into it, leaving thousands of people stranded.
Hurricanes and extreme weather is a significant disrupting factor for aviation and the overall economy. The financial damage in the US from the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season topped $70 billion. Research from MIT suggests hurricanes are becoming more frequent and increasing in intensity as a result of human-made climate change.
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport will be below sea level if temperatures rise over 1.5 degrees. Photo: Getty Images
Goodbye BKK, LGA, and LCY
Meanwhile, most of the major airports most at risk from climate change are located in Southeast and East Asia. Predicted water levels basically puts all of Bangkok under water by 2050, including Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). However, in the UK, London City Airport (LCY) sees the highest risk, and in the US both LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark (EWR) rank among the 100 airports listed by the study as below water.
London City is also at risk of disappearing. Photo: London City Airport
Other airports that will disappear include Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA) in China, Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) in New Orleans, and Key West International Airport (EYW) in Florida. With coastal airports being disproportionately important to the global airline network, by 2100, between 10 and 20% of all global routes are at risk of disruption. Adding to that clear air turbulence and lighting will increase substantially with hotter air. However, that is a topic for another time.
Source: Climate Risk Management