Ryanair has become the first noncoal company to join Europe’s top 10 carbon emitters. The Irish airliner is "the new coal," one expert said.
Low-budget airline Ryanair was the EU's ninth-highest corporate carbon emitter in 2018, according to research by think tank Transport and Environment (T&E) and based on data from the EU's emissions trading system registry.
The Irish company, which transports 130 million people a year, declared 9.9 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in 2018, up 6.9 percent on 2017 and up 49 percent since 2013.
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This makes it the first corporate without holdings in coal-fired power plants to enter the EU's top 10 most emitting firms.
The most carbon-intense entity was Poland's Belchatow power station and coal mine, which generated 38 million megatons of GHG emissions in 2018, with the top three also including German coal mines Neurath and Niederaussem. German coal mines accounted for seven of the top 10.
EasyJet was Europe's next worst-performing airline, in 31st place, with an 11 percent rise in emissions in 2018. It was followed by Lufthansa, Norwegian and British Airways.
The new coal
"When it comes to climate, Ryanair is the new coal," Andrew Murphy, the aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment, said.
"This trend will only continue until Europe realizes that this under-taxed 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 dismisses claims
A Ryanair spokesperson said "Ryanair is Europe's greenest and cleanest airline."
He claimed the company is the "greenest and cleanest airline" in the EU, due to the fact that it has the lowest CO2 emissions per kilometer traveled per passenger of any airline across the bloc.
Ryanair's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, dismissed climate change issues as "complete and utter rubbish" in an interview in 2017.
Coal entities' emissions down, airlines up
Coal entities' CO2 footprint is falling, though, as Europe's shift to cleaner energy ramps up. But airlines, which are exempted from fuel taxes and VAT on tickets, have seen a rise of 26.3 percent since 2014, faster than all other transport sectors.
Europe's airlines pay about €800 million ($888 million) a year for their right to pollute. Some studies suggest this sum is dwarfed by the €27 billion they would have to pay if their fuel tax and VAT exemptions were lifted.
The sector receives up to 85 percent of its EU emissions trading allowances free, with Ryanair consequently saving €96.6 million in 2018.
Aviation is responsible for about 3 percent of Europe's GHG emissions, but industry forecasts suggest this could rise by up to 700 percent by 2050 as the sector grows. Recent research has also found that flights will generate around 43 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050 – more than 4 percent of the world's entire remaining carbon budget.
Aviation is now estimated to account for 2 percent of all global carbon emissions, and 12 percent of the transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions.
jbh/hg (Reuters, AP)