Thirty-one European airports including Paris Charles de Gaulle launched a joint program on Tuesday to cut their carbon dioxide emissions to zero, airports body ACI Europe said.
But ACI Europe's scheme did not set a deadline for airports to become carbon neutral — largely by cutting emissions from ground transport, boosting renewable energy and reducing the energy consumption of buildings.
The Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme covers about 26 percent of passenger traffic in Europe and includes some of Europe's biggest airports, including Frankfurt, Athens, Dublin, Amsterdam's Schiphol, Italy's Milan Malpensa and Orly in Paris.
But London's Heathrow — whose owner BAA is struggling with a partial break-up — did not sign up.
ACI Europe's director general Olivier Jankovec told Reuters the group's vast and diverse membership had made it impractical to set a deadline for airports to achieve carbon neutrality.
"If we'd looked for a date, we would never have got agreement," he told Reuters. "But we are engaging our members on the issue."
While green energy projects can ultimately pay for themselves, the scheme will require upfront investment during an unprecedented downturn in aviation.
ACI Europe predicted an 8 percent decline in passenger traffic in 2009, a 16 percent drop in freight, and financial losses among some of its members.
"The fact that we are doing this in the midst of the worst ever trading conditions speaks volumes about how serious we are about taking on the challenge of climate change," said Yiannis Paraschis, chief executive of Athens International Airport.
Cutting energy consumption has become a key priority in Europe as it seeks to lead the world toward a global deal to fight climate change at talks in Copenhagen in December.
Airport operations account for up to 5 percent of the emissions from aviation, which in turn represents just 2 percent of global greenhouse gases, said the group, which represents 440 European airports.