European emissions from airlines jump 5 per cent in 2018 as Ryanair joins list of top 10 EU emitters
Thu 4 Apr 2019 – Emissions from airlines covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) rose by 4.9% in 2018 while all other European industrial and power sectors fell last year. For the first time, an airline – Ryanair – joined the top 10 European CO2 emitters, a list previously reserved for coal power plant polluters. The Irish-based low-cost carrier recorded 9.9 million tonnes in 2018, a 6.9% increase on the previous year and 49% over the past five years, according to analysis by Sandbag of EU ETS data released by the European Commission. CO2 emissions from intra-EEA flights covered by the EU ETS have risen by 26% since 2012, while other sectors have fallen. Some EU governments are pressing for harmonised EU-wide taxes on airline tickets or kerosene to stem the growth.
Emissions logged by nearly 500 aircraft operators in the EU ETS registry totalled 67.56 million tonnes (MT) in 2018, up from 64.39 MT in 2017 (+4.9%). These operators were entitled to free allowances totalling 31.20 MT, so were required to purchase and surrender allowances covering the remaining 36.36 MT. At a price of €20/tonne ($22.50/T) – the current price is around €23/tonne today – compliance with the EU ETS could have cost the sector up to €727 million ($816 million) in 2018, estimates climate change think tank Sandbag.
The top two emitters, unsurprisingly, were Europe’s leading low-cost carriers, Ryanair and easyJet, with verified emissions of 9.88 MT and 6.32 MT respectively (see table below). They were followed by Lufthansa, British Airways and Norwegian.
Ryanair becomes the first emitter that is not a coal power plant to be on the list of Europe’s top 10 polluters. Emissions generated from lignite and hard coal power plants decreased by 3% and 9% respectively last year. Since 2012, says Sandbag, emissions from hard coal power plants have fallen by 40%, whereas in the same timeframe, aviation emissions have increased by 26%.
Ryanair’s 6.9% growth in emissions in 2018, however, was surpassed by eight other European airlines, with low-cost rivals Norwegian (+8.3%), Vueling (+8.6%), easyJet (+11.0%), Wizz Air (+11.1%) and Jet2.com (+20.0%) recording faster growth. National airlines TAP, Finnair and Lufthansa also outpaced the Irish carrier. Ryanair last year pledged to lower its CO2 emissions per passenger/km by 9% by 2030 and be 31% lower than the average of the four other biggest European airlines (see article). The airline claims it is disproportionately penalised by the EU ETS compared to legacy carriers with routes outside the scope of the scheme and is supporting its replacement with the ICAO CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme.
Transport & Environment (T&E) said emissions from flights within Europe accounted for only 40% of European aviation’s “runaway emissions” and aviation regulators had consistently underestimated the extent of emissions growth in their planning forecasts. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had anticipated a 3.3% increase in carbon emissions on intra-European flights last year but the EU ETS data had shown a 4.9% increase, or 1.1 MT of CO2 more than expected, pointed out the Brussels-based campaign group.
“Airlines’ emissions are booming and not just on cheap flights,” commented Andrew Murphy, Aviation Manager at T&E. “National carriers and low-cost airlines all benefit from paying no fuel tax and VAT while the rest of us must pay our way. Governments and the EU need to wake up, starting with a tax on kerosene and clean fuel mandates that force airlines to switch to zero-emission jet fuel.”
A spokesperson for trade association Airlines for Europe (A4E) responded in a statement: “A4E airlines take their environmental responsibility very seriously and are continuously investing in ways to make their operations more sustainable. Since 2014, EU airlines’ own technical and operational measures have saved some 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – the equivalent to 100 days of flying.
“We oppose ‘green’ taxes for the simple fact that they harm the economy and are an ineffective way to pursue environmental goals. These types of taxes drive up the cost of travel in Europe, which negatively affects connectivity – ultimately to the detriment of passengers. At the same time, there is little evidence that aviation taxes actually help the environment.
“This is why A4E is demanding the completion of the Single European Sky (SES) and the restructuring of European airspace based on traffic flows rather than state boundaries. The Single Sky would allow flights to take more direct, efficient routings within the EU, reducing fuel consumption per flight by 10% and eliminating excess CO2 emissions. The European Commission has been trying to achieve the SES since the 1980s but has been halted by Member States’ lack of political will.
“Aviation today is cheaper, safer, more efficient and less polluting than ever before. The industry has long recognised its environmental footprint and is working hard to make flying more sustainable. It’s time EU politicians followed suit.”
Top 50 airline emissions covered by EU ETS (source: European Commission, Sandbag)
¹ Includes airline subsidiaries (although Lufthansa Group and IAG airlines have been separated)
² 2018 emissions data not reported in time so 2017 emissions used instead