EU data on carbon emissions shows low-cost carrier Ryanair is among Europe’s biggest polluters, marking the first time an airline has joined the top ten emitters.

According to the Transport & Environment (T&E) group, official figures released by the European Commission “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”.

Ryanair joins seven coal-fired power plants in Germany and one in both Poland and Bulgaria. In past years, the top ten has been dominated by companies that run such plants.

The figures show that overall, airlines’ carbon emissions grew 4.9 per cent within Europe last year, while other trading sectors saw a 3.9 per cent decline overall. T&E claims carbon pollution from flying has risen 26.3 per cent in the last five years, outpacing any other transport mode.

Ryanair claims to be “the largest and greenest airline in Europe”, with chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs saying the carrier surpasses “all of our competitors when it comes to carbon emissions per kilometre per passenger”.

The airline says it operates “the youngest fleet in Europe” and offers customers the option to offset the carbon emissions from their flight by making a donation to Ryanair’s climate charity partners at the end of the booking process.

Ryanair has committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 8 per cent by 2030 and supports the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) target to cut aviation sector pollution by 50 per cent versus 2005 levels by 2050.

But 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 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.”

T&E says EU governments should be doing more to tackle aviation emissions, adding that the United Nations’ offsetting scheme Corsia will allow emissions to grow. It claims there are doubts about such programmes and that airlines can continue to emit more carbon by buying cheap offsets rather than reducing their own footprint.

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 this 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.”

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