Europe's budget airline makes its debut on the EU's list of top ten CO2 emitters - a list which had previously been exclusively occupied by coal plants

Ryanair joins coal power stations on list of Europe's biggest CO2 emitters (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Ryanair joins coal power stations on list of Europe's biggest CO2 emitters (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Low-cost Irish airline Ryanair has become the first airline to break into a list of the top CO2 emitters in Europe.

The budget airline comes in at number ten on the list, while the rest of the continent’s biggest polluters remain coal-fired power plants.

Ryanair’s carbon emissions rose 6.9% in 2018 as it created almost ten million tonnes of CO2 pollution, according to Emissions Trading Statistics (ETS) released by the EU today.

Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, a European non-governmental group for cleaner transport, 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.

“Aviation is Europe’s biggest climate failure.”

Ryanair’s figures were in line with ETS statistics for the aviation industry as a whole, which saw a 4.9% increase in CO2 production between 2017 and 2018.

In contrast, emissions for all industries declined by 3.9% over the same period.

CO2 pollution created by European airlines has increased by 26.3% over the past five years.

top CO2 emitters
The carbon emissions created by the aviation industry in Europe continues to rise while other industries cut their carbon footprint (Credit: Transport & Environment)

This continued rise means the aviation industry is forecast to become the single biggest emitter within the next 30 years, as coal plants are phased out and other industries continue to cut their carbon output.

One possible alternative to the highly-polluting kerosene, which is used in jet fuels, is electrofuels – a method of storing electrical energy in a liquid form.


Europe’s other biggest carbon emitters

The total carbon emissions recorded by the ETS in 2018 topped 1.75 billion tonnes of CO2.

Bełchatów Power Station, located in central Poland, topped the annual list with 38 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – up 2% on last year.

The coal-fired power plant produced 32.3 TWh of electricity in 2017, which accounted for 21% of the country’s total power output.

The top ten also featured seven German power stations comprising Kraftwerk Neurath, Kraftwerk Niederaußem, Kraftwerk Jänschwalde, Kraftwerk Weisweiler, Kraftwerk Schwarze Pumpe, Kraftwerk Lippendorf and Kraftwerk Boxberg Werk IV.

The Bulgarian energy company TPP Maritsa East 2 EAD is the owner and operator of the biggest coal-fired power plant in the country.

The company is yet to post its emissions for 2018, meaning it is recorded as having the same total as the last year, which places it as number eight on the list.


Ryanair still claims to be Europe’s ‘greenest’ airline

Despite the company’s record-high CO2 emissions, Ryanair continues to claim to be “Europe’s greenest airline”.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Ryanair is Europe’s greenest & cleanest airline. Passengers travelling on Ryanair have the lowest CO2 emissions per km travelled than any other airline.”

top CO2 emitters
The aviation industry could be the biggest producer of carbon emissions by 2050 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2018, it launched a new environmental policy which committed to going plastic free within five years, pledged to cut CO2 emissions.

Speaking at the time Ryanair’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew said: “Our environmental policy cements our commitment to continuously improving the carbon efficiency of our operations.

“By minimising fuel and energy consumption, reducing noise pollution and relentlessly supporting global emissions targets, we will play our part in addressing climate change.”

Speaking to The Times in 2007, company CEO Michael O’Leary described criticisms of the aviation industry’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions as “middle class angst”.


Europe’s top ten CO2 emitters

The complete list of Europe’s top ten CO2 emitters in 2018 and their growth from the previous year, according to ETS figures.

Installation name Emissions total for 2018 (tonnes of CO2 equivalent) Growth 2017-2018
PGE GiEK S.A. Oddział Elektrownia Bełchatów 38,348,069 2%
Kraftwerk Neurath 32,156,657 8%
Kraftwerk Niederaußem 25,927,543 -5%
Kraftwerk Jänschwalde 22,807,073 -3%
Kraftwerk Weisweiler 16,786,258 -11%
Kraftwerk Schwarze Pumpe 12,374,048 9%
Kraftwerk Lippendorf 11,711,105 3%
TPP MARITSA EAST 2 EAD 10,549,027 0%
Kraftwerk Boxberg Werk IV 10,209,765 -4%
Ryanair 9,879,100 7%