Sydney Airport: taking climate seriously after flooding events

Sydney Airport is at risk from climate change related flooding

24 May 2019

What a difference a year (and some runway flooding) makes! Sydney Airport’s chairman Trevor Gerber has certainly changed his tune on taking climate risk seriously since last year’s annual general meeting.

Back then, Gerber didn’t think the risks of inundation from global sea level rises was much to worry about for Australia’s busiest airport. He joked that “I was out there yesterday, it’s still above water so we’re in good shape…..I’m not sure it will happen whilst you and I are still breathing.”

He no doubt rued that remark six months later in November, when two of Sydney Airport’s three runways flooded and had to be closed after some wild storms.

“What specific measures are being implemented to increase Sydney Airport’s resilience to the increasing physical impacts of climate change, and how much are they expected to cost?” asked a shareholder.

“Climate change affects everybody. Rising seas and everything else are consequences,” Gerber responded. “The first thing we are doing is putting an intense effort and money into assisting the emissions that us and our airport partners… secondly when we design and build all of our infrastructure going forward, we are taking into account potential floodplains and the like. We are doing a lot of studies to identify when that might be.”

The projected costs were still uncertain, he added.

No detailed climate risk analysis

A Market Forces representative asked about the lack of detail in Sydney Airport’s sustainability report. “Can the board commit to including data that actually quantifies the varying level of financial risk under different climate change scenarios in next year’s reporting and beyond?”

“I note and acknowledge the meetings you [Market Forces] have had with us to assist us in our process. It is a relatively new process for a lot of people.” Gerber went on to discuss Sydney Airport’s sustainability report but admitted: “there is a lot yet to come…we’re on a journey.”

Advocating for strong climate change mitigation

It’s clear, given the flooding incident last year and Sydney Airport’s own climate reporting that the company has considerable exposure to climate risk.

Air travel is one of the worst contributors to climate change, responsible for some 4-9 % of the total climate impact from human activity.

An alarming new scientific study this week also warns that rises in global sea levels could almost double the United Nations IPCC’s predicted 1-metre rise by 2100, due to accelerating melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

“Why hasn’t the company and its board actively and publicly advocated for strong climate change mitigation and adaptation policy?” asked another shareholder.

The board dodged the question, instead speaking about their sustainability plan.

Take action

It is good to see the steps Sydney Airport has taken in the last year to start addressing climate risk and giving it the attention it deserves, rather than laughing it off. Other Australian Stock Exchange companies that your superannuation is invested in don’t have the willingness or ability to transition to a low carbon economy. Read our 2019 ‘Out of line, out of time’ report to find out which climate-wrecking companies you should divest from and tell your super fund to ditch them.