Ryanair has become the first non-coal company to join Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters, according to EU figures.
The Irish airline, which transports 130 million people a year, declared 9.9 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, up 6.9% on last year and 49% over the last five years, according to data in the EU’s latest emissions trading system registry.
All the numbers per company, by country, can be seen at
Andrew Murphy, the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment, said: “When it comes to climate, Ryanair is the new coal. This trend will only continue until Europe realises that this undertaxed and under-regulated sector needs to be brought into line, starting with a tax on kerosene and the introduction of mandates that force airlines to switch to zero-emission jet fuel.”
Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, dismissed climate change concerns as “complete and utter rubbish” in an interview two years ago. His airline is now ranked as Europe’s 10th worst emitter, after nine coal plants. Poland’s Bełchatów is the worst polluter, producing 38 megatonnes of planet-warming emissions annually.
Coal emissions are falling, though, as Europe’s transition to cleaner energy continues. In stark contrast, emissions from airlines, which are exempted from fuel taxes and VAT on tickets, have soared by 26.3% since 2014, outpacing all other transport sectors.
Ryanair did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
EasyJet was Europe’s next worst-performing airline, in 31st place on the list, after an 11% rise in emissions in 2018. It was followed by Lufthansa, Norwegian and British Airways, according to analysis of the EU data by the thinktank Sandbag and Transport and Environment.
Aviation is responsible for about 3% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, but industry forecasts suggest this could rise by up to 700% by 2050 as the sector grows.
Murphy described aviation as “Europe’s biggest climate failure”. Europe’s airlines pay about €800m (£680m) a year for their rights to pollute. But some studies suggest this sum is eclipsed by the €27bn they would have to stump up if their fuel tax and VAT exemptions were ended.
Despite increased attention from policymakers, the sector receives up to 85% of its EU emissions trading allowances free, with Ryanair consequently saving €96.6m in 2018.
Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, said: “Ryanair use new and efficient aircraft rammed to the rafters with passengers, illustrating how technology alone cannot reconcile aviation’s rocketing emissions with the Paris climate commitments.
“If we genuinely care for our children’s futures, we need to drive down the demand for aviation. This will require stringent regulations focusing on frequent fliers rather than those taking the occasional trip.”
Ryanair joins the club of Europe’s top 10 carbon polluters
Ryanair is now one of the top 10 carbon emitters within Europe, a league which had until now been exclusively occupied by coal plants. Transport & Environment (T&E) says the airline’s No 10 ranking, revealed in official figures released today, reflects Europe’s failure to put in place effective measures to rein in the runaway emissions growth of aviation, which pays no taxes on its fuel and VAT on its tickets.
Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, said: “When it comes to climate, Ryanair is the new coal. This trend will only continue until Europe realises that this undertaxed and under-regulated sector needs to be brought into line, starting with a tax on kerosene and the introduction of mandates that force airlines to switch to zero-emission jet fuel.”
T&E said it is no surprise that the most undertaxed mode of transport is also the one with the fastest growing CO2 emissions. That needs to end. Airlines should have their free emissions allowances in the EU emissions trading system removed, start paying tax on their kerosene, and be subject to VAT on their tickets – like all other transport sectors. Radically cutting aviation emissions would also require a shift to synthetic kerosene, produced from renewable electricity and carbon captured from the air.
But, instead, governments are pursuing a controversial UN offsetting scheme for aviation, known as Corsia, which will allow aviation emissions to continue growing. There are serious doubts over the environmental effectiveness of carbon offsets. Airlines can emit even more carbon by buying ultra-cheap offsets – where they invest in environmental projects, such as a hydrodam project which later collapsed, instead of reducing their own carbon footprint.
Andrew Murphy concluded: “Aviation is Europe’s biggest climate failure. The worst thing we can do in response is to put all our hopes in an offsetting scheme that gives airlines a license to grow indefinitely. But that is exactly what airlines have cooked up at the industry-dominated UN aviation agency. The time has come for a big change in Europe’s aviation policy.”
Note to editors:
 For emissions that were not lodged on time, 2018 emissions have been set to 2017. Only open ETS accounts are considered. For aviation, this assumption amounts to 5.5 Mt, approximately 8% of the verified reported emissions.
 The data is for emissions of flights within the current EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), which covers flights within Europe, with some exceptions (flights to the Canaries, Madeira, the Azores). In many cases, airlines’ global emissions will be even higher.