Ryanair ranked among Europe’s top carbon emitters

Responding to NGO survey, spokesman says airline Europe’s ‘greenest and cleanest’

Ryanair has been named as one of Europe's top 10 carbon emitters, with the airline being described as "the new coal" by environmental campaign groups.

It is the first time any entity other than a coal-fired power plant has been named among the top carbon emitters by Transport & Environment, the Brussels-based federation of clean-transport non-government organisations (NGOs).

Citing European Commission data on the emissions trading system, Transport & Environment said Ryanair’s emissions increased by 6.9 per cent last year, putting it “up there with coal plants in Germany and Poland”.

Andrew Murphy, who works with the NGO, said even in a sector where emissions are growing in contrast with other carbon producing industries, Ryanair stood out.


Mr Murphy said the absence of a tax on kerosene and the abolition of Vat on ticket sales had combined with other factors such as the promotion of regional airports by local governments.

“It’s distorting the market and opening up more and more routes – it’s a fossil fuel subsidy that keeps air travel artificially cheap and drives up demand”.

In a statement on Monday, a Ryanair spokesman said: “Ryanair is Europe’s greenest and cleanest airline. Passengers travelling on Ryanair have the lowest CO2 emissions per km travelled than any other airline.”


Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary has previously criticised the science of climate change. In a 2017 interview with RTE’s nationwide programme, he dismissed concerns about its impact as “complete and utter rubbish”.

“You had these people standing round the market square 2,000 years ago saying the end of the world is nigh. In the 19th century in London, they 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.”

However, more recently he has softened his rhetoric and committed Ryanair to supporting the ambition to limit the impact of climate change to two degrees temperature change or less mandated by the Paris climate agreement.

He has, however, pointed out that other industries, such as the automotive sector, burn more fuel per kilometre travelled by a passenger than a Ryanair flight.

Mr Murphy said Mr O’Leary could “talk about cows and cars all he wants” but that his aircraft needed to get to zero emissions by 2050 if they were to reach the goal set in the Paris agreement to combat climate change.

Overall, airline carbon emissions grew by 4.9 per cent last year.

‘Climate failure’

Mr Murphy also criticised systems that allow airlines invest in projects which allow them to offset their emissions. “Aviation is Europe’s biggest climate failure. The worst thing we can do in response is put all our hopes in an offsetting scheme that gives airlines a license to grow indefinitely.”

He also criticised the Oireachtas climate committee’s recent action plan for failing to include aviation emissions in the State’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

While Ryanair was the highest-ranking carbon emitter among airlines, others grew more rapidly last year. The data show that Easyjet’s emissions grew by 10 per cent.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times