Turning policy into action: capacity-building and assistance to advance environmental protection in aviation

This article has been extracted in part from the third edition of the World Civil Aviation Report. The special 75th-anniversary edition of the publication provides States and the industry with a comprehensive perspective on the status and progress of international air transport.


In recent years, ICAO made great progress in developing policies and setting standards for environmentally sustainable aviation. A global aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 was adopted, and Member States agreed on a basket of measures to reduce greenhouse gases in aviation in order to achieve this goal. Capacity-building and assistance are fundamental for success in turning this environmental policy into action at the State level.

Though all ICAO Member States want to take action on environmental protection, they don’t all have the resources to do so. To address this challenge, ICAO established two partnerships with international organizations to secure funding for developing specific technical assistance projects in support of Member State actions to reduce aviation emissions.

These projects that started in 2014 have been successfully implemented by ICAO:

  • ICAO-UNDP-GEF Assistance Project: Transforming the Global Aviation Sector: Emissions Reduction from International Aviation; and
  • ICAO-European Union Assistance Project: Capacity-building for CO2 Mitigation from International Aviation.

ICAO-UNDP-GEF Assistance Project: Transforming the Global Aviation Sector: Emissions Reduction from International Aviation

This project is aimed at supporting States in implementing emission reduction measures, in particular developing States and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project was implemented by ICAO from 2015 to 2018 in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

ICAO developed a set of guidance documents on how States could implement and secure financing for renewable energy and sustainable aviation fuels projects. It also created analytical tools to compare the cost-effectiveness of emissions mitigation initiatives. This guidance and these tools are beneficial for civil aviation authorities and aviation stakeholders for implementing the States’ Action Plans on emissions reduction.

The Solar-at-Gate technology

Aircraft conventionally use onboard auxiliary power units (APUs) and ground power units (GPUs) to provide electricity and cabin climate control while an aircraft is parked at the gate before departing for the next flight. The “solar-at-gate” technology is an innovative solution, for which a methodology was designed by ICAO in cooperation with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing solar energy directly to aircraft during ground operations.

Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) Deputy Director General, Mr. Rohan Campbell, and ICAO Deputy Director, Environment, Ms. Jane Hupe, launch a pilot project that will see new renewable power sources for aircraft parked at airport gates being introduced at two facilities in Jamaica, beginning with Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA).

A solar facility is installed on the airport premises, which supplies the power demand to operate an electric ground power unit and preconditioned air units (PCA). The combination of electricity generated by the solar facility and the use of gate electrification equipment eliminates the CO2 emissions while the aircraft is parked at the gate.

With the funding for this initiative, ICAO was able to implement the first-of-its-kind “solar-at-gate” project at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica in 2018. This small-scale demonstration project (100kWp capacity) now serves as a model for other airports to follow as an emission mitigation strategy.

ICAO-European Union Assistance Project: Capacity-building for CO2 Mitigation from International Aviation

This project has been one of ICAO’s landmark capacity-building and assistance initiatives and one of the first projects to fully represent the spirit of ICAO’s No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. With the financial contribution from the European Union, ICAO supported a group of 14 States in Africa and the Caribbean to develop and implement States’ Action Plans on Emissions Reduction, and to establish an efficient CO2 emissions monitoring system – the Aviation Environmental System (AES) – for collecting and reporting environmental data.

To assist in implementing mitigation measures, ICAO selected four pilot projects to be executed with project funding in the beneficiary States based on their carbon reduction potential and replicability.

#MIA Solar Project image courtesy of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA)

Two new solar-at-gate projects to power aircraft with solar energy during ground operations at the international airports in Douala, Cameroon and Mombasa, Kenya. The installed capacity of these projects is of 1,25MWp and 500kWp respectively. They will eliminate over 4,000 tonnes of CO2 per year and will serve more than 7,500 flights per year.

Design and implementation of Continuous Climb Operations (CCO) and Continuous Descent Operations (CDO) at the international airports of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Libreville, Gabon. With these new procedures, aircraft can operate without altitude restrictions during the departure or arrival phase, thus optimizing their flight profiles. As a result, there is less noise exposure and greater reductions in fuel burn and greenhouse gas emissions.

The project also funded a set of feasibility studies on clean energy and sustainable aviation fuels, which provide the governments of the selected States with policy advice that may unveil new opportunities to get to the leading edge of innovations for a sustainable aviation sector.

From its inception in 2013, the ICAO project aimed at strengthening the capacities of the civil aviation authorities to engage in developing and implementing environmental protection policies through tailored training, tools, equipment, and other resources. ICAO has succeeded in transforming the organizational culture towards concern for the environment in the aviation sector of the beneficiary States.

Environmental Units with dedicated staff have been created in the civil aviation authorities of most of these States. This gives ICAO confidence that the results achieved will be sustainable in the future.

The implementation of such assistance projects should not remain as one-time initiatives, and should be part of an ICAO long-term strategy. Specific funding for capacity-building and technical assistance regarding the environment assists ICAO in ensuring that all Member States can contribute to the collective efforts to achieve ICAO’s aspirational goals on the environment and that no country is left behind.