Airlines are the biggest carbon emitters in four European countries

Airlines were the biggest carbon emitters in four European countries last year and were among the top 10 emitters in another 12, the latest analysis of EU emissions data shows. The data shows that airlines are increasingly occupying the top positions previously dominated by coal and heavy industry.

In 2018 EasyJet emitted most in the UK, Ryanair in Ireland, Norwegian in Norway, and SAS in Sweden under the EU’s emissions trading system. That’s according to T&E analysis of data from the EU emissions trading system (ETS), which covers emissions from flights within Europe and from the industrial and power sectors. Last month it was revealed that Ryanair had become the first airline to enter the top 10 carbon emitters EU-wide.

T&E’s aviation manager, Andrew Murphy, said: ‘Airlines are the new coal. Given how under-taxed and under-regulated the aviation sector is, it comes as no surprise that they are in the top 10 emitters. Unlike cars, trucks, vans and trains, airlines pay no tax on their fuel and have no limit on their emissions growth. EU governments needs to end the kerosene tax holiday and demand real emissions cuts from aviation.’

The 16 European countries where airlines are in the top 10 carbon emitters:

Austria: Austrian Airways (4th)

Cyprus: Cobalt Air (4th) and TUS Airways (6th)

Finland: Finnair (4th)

France: Air France (7th)

UK: Easyjet (1st)

IE: Ryanair (1st), Aer Lingus (7th)

Hungary: Wizz Air (2nd)

Iceland: Icelandair (3rd) and WOW Air (6th)

Lithuania: Small Planet Airlines (6th)

Luxembourg: Luxair (2ns) and Cargolux (8th)

Latvia: AirBaltic (4th) and Primera Air Nordic (6th)

Malta: Air Malta (2nd) and four other airlines

Norway: Norwegian (1st)

Portugal: TAP (5th)

Sweden: SAS (1st)

Slovenia: Adria Airways (8th)

Airlines pay a minimal cost for their emissions compared to what they would pay in kerosene tax – from which they are currently exempt. For example, an Oslo-Rome flight adds under €4 to their costs, according to T&E calculations. The total cost of airlines being in the ETS is about €700 million a year, while they save €9 billion a year thanks to their kerosene tax exemption. EU finance ministers will discuss airlines’ continued tax holiday at a meeting in the Hague in June.

Airlines’ carbon emissions grew 4.9% on flights within Europe last year – in contrast to the other sectors covered by emissions-trading, such as coal and cement plants, which declined 3.9%. Carbon pollution from flying in Europe has risen a staggering 26% in the last five years – far outpacing any other transport mode.

T&E said airlines should have their free emissions allowances in the EU emissions trading system removed, start paying tax on their kerosene, and be subject to VAT on their tickets – like all other transport sectors. Radically cutting aviation emissions would also require a shift to synthetic kerosene, produced from renewable electricity and carbon captured from the air.

Rather than taxing and regulating aviation emissions, governments are pursuing a controversial UN offsetting scheme for aviation, known as Corsia, which will allow aviation emissions to continue growing. There are serious doubts over the environmental effectiveness of carbon offsets. Airlines can emit even more carbon by buying ultra-cheap offsets – where they invest in environmental projects, such as a hydrodam project which later collapsed, instead of reducing their own carbon footprint.

Meanwhile, in Sweden a public campaign for people to fly less, called 'Flygskam', continues to have an impact. Last week regional airline BRA cited flagging demand for internal flights when it announced plans to lay off around a third of its staff. Previously the company which operates 10 Swedish airports had said its year-on-year passenger numbers dropped seven months in a row. Passenger numbers at the state train operator increased to a record 32 million last year.

There is growing public and political support for ending aviation’s special treatment. All major candidates for the European Commission presidency have come out in favour of taxing kerosene, meaning the next Commission will have a strong mandate to act.