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Ryanair: Low-cost airline warned about misleading carbon offset claims

Ryanair was warned that some claims about carbon compensation could be misleading.
Ryanair was warned that some claims about carbon compensation could be misleading. Copyright AP Photo/Armando Franca
Copyright AP Photo/Armando Franca
By Rosie Frost
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The low-cost carrier has changed its information on carbon compensation schemes following an investigation by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets.

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Ryanair has made their carbon offsetting claims clearer after an investigation by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) warned that flying remains “highly polluting.”

The consumer authority warned that statements like “Fly greener to…” and suggestions that offsetting emissions would lead to more sustainable flights were worded in an alarmingly misleading way.

“Businesses must be honest and clear about the sustainability claims they make. Even with CO2-compensation schemes, flying remains a highly polluting way of travelling,” explains Edwin van Houten, director of ACM’s Consumer Department.

Airlines may offer CO2 compensation schemes, but they cannot give the impression that CO2 compensation will make flying sustainable.
Edwin van Houten
Director of ACM’s Consumer Department

“Airlines may offer CO2 compensation schemes, but they cannot give the impression that CO2 compensation will make flying sustainable.”

Why is this warning for Ryanair significant?

ACM started looking into Ryanair as part of a wider investigation into carbon compensation claims across the Dutch aviation industry.

One of its main findings was that some of these claims may give passengers the false impression they would be flying significantly more sustainably with the low-cost carrier. That could mean they are attracted to flying with the company over other supposedly less sustainable airlines.

“ACM’s announcement is quite significant,” says Eric Stam, a lecturer at Rotterdam Airport College and member of campaign group Stay Grounded. Stam asked the ACM to intervene in the aviation industry’s carbon offsetting claims two years ago.

“If more national consumer authorities scrutinize sustainability claims of airlines and coordinate with each other to denounce them, airlines and airports have to be more cautious in what they promise their customers and politicians.”

AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File
Travellers wait in line to check in and board flights at Amsterdam's Schiphol AirportAP Photo/Peter Dejong, File

What changes did Ryanair make to its website?

Ryanair cooperated with the authority and has since made three changes to the CO2 compensation option on its online ticket sales.

A clear message that CO2 compensation does not make flying itself more sustainable was added. Messaging that suggested you could “Fly greener to [...]” was instead changed to “compensate your CO2 emissions”. Symbols like green leaves were also removed.

The website now also shows how the estimated emissions for each ticket are calculated and the amount of CO2 compensation. In addition, Ryanair had to clarify which projects the CO2 compensation fee was spent on, highlighting the independent certification of each one.

Why is carbon offsetting a problem?

Climate strategies for many airlines hinge on using carbon offsetting to reduce emissions.

Ryanair plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent using offsetting programmes. Such schemes include the distribution of energy-efficient stoves in Uganda by First Climate.

But not all offset projects genuinely reduce emissions, warns Magdalena Heuwieser, a spokesperson for the Stay Grounded network.

“It would be necessary to investigate each of these offset projects, which would most likely unveil how most of them do not really lead to emissions reductions,” she says.

“On top of that, it is hypocritical to pay people in Uganda to use energy efficient cooking stoves so that we can continue flying with a good conscience and airlines can continue to profit.”

Others, such as EasyJet, have dropped offsetting schemes altogether to focus on directly cutting emissions through sustainable aviation fuel or hydrogen-powered engines.

Euronews Green has contacted Ryanair for comment.

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