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Christchurch International Airport: Southern Hemisphere’s first Carbon Neutral Airport
Josephine Howitt, 27 Jan 08
Article Photo

Last week, Christchurch International Airport Ltd. became the second in the world, after Sweden’s SLV, to be certified as “carbon neutral”. Using New Zealand’s carboNZero programme, emissions caused by ground operations (not including planes or engineering works undertaken by airlines on site) must now be managed and offset by buying carbon credits.

The carboNZero programme has been developed according to international best practice at Landcare Research NZ. Events (such as conferences), organisations, products and services can be certified through the programme, whereby qualified consultants work with the individual or organisation to measure, manage (reduce), and mitigate (offset) emissions.

But the focus of carboNZero is not simply to paying to continue as always. Rather, meaningful emissions reductions are made: with electricity being the major contributor to Christchurch International Airport’s carbon footprint, a building management plan has been implemented to improve energy efficiency. The airport has also improved waste recycling programmes, including recycling former road materials; invested in slow-growing grass species that don't require spraying; used ground water to cool the terminal; and used LPG instead of diesel for heating systems.

Annual reviews are undertaken to keep carboNZero certification; and the requirement to pay for carbon credits gives incentive for the company to implement further measures that reduce emissions.

Mitigation (offsetting) takes place by purchasing carbon credits from verified Kyoto-consistent schemes: landfill gas and windpower renewable energy projects or native forest regeneration.

Native forest regeneration is not done through the usual planting of trees, but rather by giving money to landowners to retire marginal farmland that will naturally regenerate into native bush. This takes out the labour-intensive tree planting step, while also giving incentive to reduce stock levels – an important move seeing as almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture.

Increasing public concern over climate change impacts of international travel is one reason for striving for carbon neutrality. This is a concern for Christchurch International Airport with nearly 2 million international visitors annually, and for New Zealand as a whole, where tourist spending contributes 10% of GDP. Tourism Minister Damien O’Connor has commended the airport for its carbon neutral achievement; an effort he says is in line with a 2015 strategic goal of ensuring environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the savings from reduced energy use, etc. will eventually pay for the cost of the certification process.

Now it remains for the airline industry to also step up to the carbon neutral challenge. Virgin Blue, who run Pacific Blue in New Zealand, offer an option for consumers to offset their flight at the purchasing stage, where an extra fee is paid to buy carbon credits.

Prime Minister Helen Clark commented that “The high value visitors we seek to attract are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprint. (…) New Zealand as a country, and tourism as an industry, must go the extra mile to prove sustainability credentials.” Christchurch International Airport Ltd. is a leader on this path and more businesses will surely follow.

Image: thanks Flickr/flissphil!

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