Cairns Airport is implementing a progressive Environment Strategy to guide our actions through to 2025, and to set the scene for long term aspirations in alignment with global standards such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

By investing in good environmental practice, we’re not only meeting our social responsibilities and protecting our valuable environment, but we’re taking care of our bottom line too. Doing the right thing for the planet is actually good for business, and long-term success requires the two to work in harmony.

1. Become a Net Zero, climate-ready airport campus for both direct (scope 1) and indirect (scope 2) emissions by 2025

Climate change is expected to have a significant physical impact on the north-eastern region of Australia within the coming decades. Scientists predict higher average temperatures, more intense and frequent heatwaves, more extreme bushfires, more intense cyclones, disrupted rainfall patterns, and inundation from sea level rise. We acknowledge our responsibility to reduce emissions, as well as to prepare for the potential consequences a changing climate may have on our operations. 

Cairns Airport is reducing its direct (scope 1) emissions through electrification and efficiencies, and investing in on-site blue carbon sequestration to offset emissions that can not be avoided in the short term.

Cairns Airport, through operator the North Queensland Airports Group, recently entered a six-year partnership with state-owned CleanCo Queensland. Commencing in January 2025, the agreement means 100 per cent of the airport’s electricity, and that of tenants, will be powered by local renewable energy. Achieving Net Zero emissions (for Scope 1 and 2) by 2025 will make us among the first carbon-neutral airports in Australasia.

Climate resilience is becoming increasingly important to Cairns Airport. With the help of stakeholders and independent specialists, Cairns Airport is quantifying climate change risks and developing resilience plans so we can operate safely well into the future.

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 2. Halve waste to land fill and contribute to a circular economy

The production and disposal of single use plastics is changing our landscapes and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Modern products are seldom designed with the end in mind and the use of a vast range of materials makes recycling difficult.

Queensland is one of the largest generators of waste in Australia, producing more than 32 million tonnes of it each year. Cairns Airport’s domestic terminal generates most of our business’ waste. Initial audits showed about 70 per cent of waste sent to landfill could be recycled if proper sortation occurred. We have implemented a sortation program to ensure waste is directed correctly. Separation streams include organics, wooden cutlery, drink containers, coffee cups, co-mingled recycling such as wine bottles and paper, general waste, batteries and ink cartridges. In a typical week, 21,600 litres of recycling is recovered from general waste and saved from landfill. More than $2,500 per month is raised from the Containers for Change program and donated to local charities.

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3. Halve airport potable water usage by 2025

Although water is relatively abundant in north-eastern Queensland, a growing population and changes in rainfall patterns has increased pressure on water resources. The capture of water in dams is costly and disrupts freshwater ecosystems and the treatment and distribution of water uses resources, as does the treatment of discharged wastewater.

Our airports (Cairns and Mackay) use an average of 140,000 kilolitres of water each year, which is enough to fill 56 Olympic swimming pools. This is mostly drinking water that is used across our airport operations, including in irrigation and amenities. We acknowledge the need to explore opportunities for recycled water use, and to make a conscious effort to grow our operations with water efficiency in mind.

Future-focused initiatives have been embedded throughout our $55 million international terminal redevelopment, including visible smart meters to raise awareness of water usage and flow control devices on all water outlets. We are investigating the feasibility of using recycled water for irrigation and other uses where drinking-grade water isn’t required.

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4. Protect biodiversity by helping to protect and nurture endangered species within the airport precinct

 North Queensland’s biological systems are highly diverse, with half of Australia’s native bird species, one third of its mammals and 3,000 plants.

Cairns Airport is built amidst coastal ecosystems that are thriving and have become strongholds for many species that have been adversely impacted by coastal development. People travel from all over the world to experience the biodiversity we have in our backyard, and we acknowledge our responsibility to take care of it.

Cairns Airport was the first business in Australia to integrate biodiversity as an operational target in our financial structure. This unique initiative is encompassed within a Sustainability Linked Loan (SLL), which commits us to regenerating habitat to protect three threatened species. Only one other agreement of this kind is known globally, a paper producer in Brazil.

Three priority species have been selected by Cairns Airport and its key stakeholders, including Traditional Owners, for habitat enhancement following an intricate species inventory study. Habitat Enhancement Plans will be implemented over three years (FY25-FY27).

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5. Sustain healthy waterways

Pollution of soil, groundwater, and surface water can cause damage to ecosystems and human health, and can limit land usability and impact reputation.

Airport operations are diverse and require the use of a vast range of chemicals, many of which are for safety. High rainfall and proximity to delicate waterways and marine environments can mean that chemical spills can result in environmental pollution quickly if not managed properly, and we have a lot to lose.

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6.Work with stakeholders to support the transition to sustainable aviation fuels

Aviation is in a period of rapid growth as airlines, airports and other key stakeholders work together for a climate-ready and profitable future.

One of the most exciting developments in this space is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which will significantly reduce carbon emissions and also create major economic and workforce opportunities as new refineries are built to produce SAF in bulk.

Cairns Airport is working with a leading Australian organisation toward establishing a local Sustainable Aviation Fuel plant. This is the most viable pathway for decarbonisation of aviation and will bolster Queensland’s energy transition by developing a new industry using sugar cane waste.

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