Ryanair denies climate change because it doesn’t like CO2 solutions that would cramp its growth

Recently Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary dismissed evidence of climate change as “rubbish”. Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, says this is hardly surprising. CO2 emissions from all sectors in the EU’s emissions trading system decreased in 2016 with one exception: aviation: CO2 from flights within Europe grew 8%, according to figures released last week by the European Commission. Low-fares airlines drove this growth, with Ryanair, Wizz Air, Eurowings and Norwegian all registering double-digit increases in emissions. Ryanair is the biggest aviation emitter in Europe. These airlines are now huge emitters with carbon footprints exceeding those of some small countries. Ryanair’s growth is thanks, in part, to a business model reliant on taxpayer handouts. It will face the biggest challenge if governments take serious action against aviation’s growing emissions. World CO2 emissions need to almost cease by 2050, so an increase of 8% in European aviation emissions in one year alone is of serious concern. It is allowed because all levels of government – regional, national and European – policies do nothing to curb its emissions. The sector receives €40 billion annual subsidy from its fuel tax and VAT exemptions. Luckily, the aviation EU ETS provisions are currently under revision, and MEPs and member states have an opportunity to fix some of the major flaws.


Ryanair denies climate change because it doesn’t like the solutions

By Andrew Murphy (aviation manager at Transport & Environment a green campaign group)


T&E airline emissions 2016 

Let’s provide some context for these figures. Last month, the International Energy Agency declared that global emissions flatlined in 2016. This is an important development, but emissions still need to fall rapidly and stop entirely by the 2050s if we are to have any chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. In this context, a rise of 8% in European aviation emissions in one year alone is of serious concern.

However, such growth is not inevitable. The reason aviation emissions continue to grow is because of deliberate policies introduced and supported at all levels of government – regional, national and European. And unless these policies change, aviation will continue to be a growing driver of climate change, undermining action taken by other sectors. Growth in aviation and shipping will undo half of the fuel saving made by cars, trucks and other land transport by 2030.

It’s at European level though that we have the greatest scope to take action. The figures released this week come from Europe’s emissions trading system (ETS), but this only includes flights within Europe. Flights to and from Europe were excluded from this measure due to enormous industry and international pressure – though we can be confident that such emissions are growing also.

That emissions within Europe are included in EU ETS is, of course, an important first step. Carbon from those flights to and from Europe risks being shunted into a very weak and uncertain global agreement – under UN aviation body ICAO – which may not even come into force. However inclusion in the EU ETS comes with huge problems, as the system itself is badly functioning.

Put simply: the EU ETS works in theory, but less so in practice due to problems such as a weak cap on emissions growth and over-allocation of free emission allowances. This is especially true for the aviation provisions in the ETS, where the cap doesn’t even decline and where airlines receive 85% of their allowances for free.

The result is a measure which has only a minimal impact on airlines: a total “cost” of €150 million a year, which compares to the €40 billion annual subsidy the European aviation sector receives from its fuel tax and VAT exemptions. This minimal carbon price does nothing to drive efficiencies in the sector and leaves airlines and airports confident that they can continue to expand without having to pay anything for their climate damage.

Luckily, the aviation EU ETS provisions are currently under revision, and MEPs and member states have an opportunity to fix some of the major flaws.

The European Commission took an important first step in proposing a declining cap for aviation from 2021 onwards. However much more is needed. The scope of the measure needs to be expanded to cover all flights to and from Europe, at least until 2021 when a global measure may come into operation. There also needs to be a huge reduction in free allowances granted to airlines, so that the sector pays its way. Finally, the general revision of the EU ETS, also underway, needs to remove the huge surplus of allowances which has built up in the system.

Our indifference to aviation emissions is driving climate change. Aviation emissions have grown from 1.5% to 4.5% as a share of European emissions between 1990 and 2015, and that share will grow even more unless real action is taken. That starts with fixing the EU ETS, which will remain the test as to whether this sector will contribute its fair share to Europe’s climate efforts.



DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.


See earlier:

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary says climate change is ‘complete and utter rubbish’ – not related to burning carbon

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has dismissed climate change concerns as “complete and utter rubbish”.  Speaking on an Irish radio programme, he said he believes that people’s fears about global warming are unfounded.  He said:  “This kind of nonsense that we all need to cut back on beef production or that we all need to eat vegetables or go vegan and all start cycling bicycles is not the way forward. …  In the 19th century in London, [people]  thought they were all going to die from smog. There is always some lunatic out there who points to a load of rubbish science; science changes.”  He said: “I don’t accept that climate change is real. I don’t accept the link between carbon consumption and climate change” … and the cooling and warming had been “going on for years.”  It is hardly a surprise that a businessman whose private fortunes depend on encouraging ever more burning of fossil fuels thinks this. Otherwise how could he cope with the cognitive dissonance? But it is worth noting that the aviation industry does no more than pay lip service to any prospect of reducing its carbon emissions, merely holding out a few very minor carbon savings – while massively growing (doubling or tripling) the size of the industry – and getting other sectors to offset its CO2.