According to an analysis by Washington, US-based World Resources Institute (WRI), with one metre of sea level rise, roughly 80 airports globally would be swamped by the year 2100. And a 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also warned that sea levels could indeed rise by 60-110cm if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase at the current rate.
So, even if the Paris Agreement is successful (which is looking less and less likely now that the US – the second largest contributor of GHG emissions in the world – is to pull out of it), WRI’s study notes that nearly 45 of the world’s airports could be flooded by a sea level rise of half a metre.
"If you step outside and throw a dart blindfolded, almost anything will be impacted by climate change, including airports," said Noah Maghsadi, one of the authors of the study. “Based on this analysis, even if we do curtail climate change, adaptation still needs to happen.”
Some of the more vulnerable airports that WRI identified include all three international airports in the New York City area, Yancheng Nanyang International Airport in China's Jiangsu Province and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.
Furthermore, many airports on small island nations that lack financial resources to adapt are also at high risk such as those in the Pacific. Tina Huang, co-author of the analysis, asserted that some of these locations are ‘totally reliant’ on commerce from airplanes and airports, and that rising sea levels would therefore likely ‘cripple’ their supply of food and other basic goods.
But airports are aware of the risks, and some have even begun to take action to mitigate the effects that rising sea levels will cause. For example, Changi Airport in Singapore, which is located along the coast near Marina Bay, has resurfaced its runways in order to improve drainage. It is also building a new higher terminal 5.5 metres above sea levels.
Elsewhere, San Francisco airport in the US has had its $587-million plan approved to raise its airport sea wall from three to eight feet tall.
Although planning for the worst certainly seems to be the most practical measure for the time being – as the resulting implications for the travel industry will likely revolve around financial losses – we’d encourage more creative solutions to help tackle the impending climate doom. For inspiration, look no further than Wright Electric’s new electric commercial aircraft (commissioned for commercial airlines easyJet).