For the First Time, an Airline is Among Europe’s Top 10 Carbon Polluters

Apr 2, 2019

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Ryanair, one of the largest low-cost carriers in the world, has just entered the top 10 in Europe for the most carbon emissions. It’s the first time a company that is not a coal plant enters the list.

According to Transport & Environment (T&E), a Belgian research group that conducted the study of carbon pollution data in Europe, carbon emissions by airlines have increased by 26.3 percent over the last five years. Ryanair’s carbon dioxide emissions increased by 6.9 percent in 2018, making the airline number 9 on the top 10 list of carbon polluters in Europe. All other culprits on the list were companies that operate coal-fueled power plants.

However, Ryanair is just one airline among many contributing to the increase in carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Carbon emissions from airlines in the European Union have grown by 4.9 percent last year; other sectors that participate in the EU’s Emissions Trading System — a form of the so-called “cap and trade” system to limit carbon emissions — have declined by 3.9 percent. Ryanair might have landed itself on the list above other airlines also because the data gathered by T&E only covered emissions of flights within Europe, ruling out the carbon footprint of any and all international flights. In many cases, T&E reported, airlines’ global emissions will be even higher.

Despite being the only airline to make the cut, Ryanair claims to be Europe’s most environmentally-friendly airline. The list compiled by T&E looks at total emissions — and because Ryanair has a huge fleet and flies mostly within the EU, it emits more CO2 in absolute terms than other airlines flying within the Union. Looking at specific emissions is a different story, and the airline noted as much.

“Ryanair is Europe’s greenest & cleanest airline,” a Ryanair spokesperson said in a statement to TPG. “Passengers traveling on Ryanair have the lowest CO2 emissions per km traveled than any other airline.” The Ireland-based airline also offers customers resources for carbon offsetting — a practice in which ar passengers donate money to climate-focused charities (for example, Ryanair offers to connect customers to First Climate, Renature Monchique, Native Woodland Trust and Irish Whale & Dolphin) to “offset” the carbon footprint left by the flight. 

Bloomberg reported that the International Civil Aviation Organization has recently made moves to address aviation-based carbon emissions. Efforts have included carbon-offsetting on the part of the airlines by planting trees or investing in cleaner technologies.

Featured image by Gerard Julien / Getty Images.

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