Research from pan-European sustainable travel non-governmental organisation Transport & Environment (T&E) said that Ryanair emissions last year surpassed those of 2019, the year before the covid-19 pandemic halted travel across the world.
It said the airline emitted 13.3m tonnes of carbon.
Lufthansa and Air France emitted 8.7m and 8.1m tonnes, respectively, with the German carrier back to 67% of its 2019 emissions and the French airlines at 84%, T&E said.
It cautioned that long-haul airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France are not yet back to pre-covid levels of flying, in part due to greater restrictions on routes outside Europe.
The rapid recovery of the amount of carbon emitted goes against pledges made by airlines of building back better after the pandemic, the organisation added.
Aviation policy officer at T&E, Roman Mauroschat, said: “The sector has clearly not been building back better.
This talk of a green recovery during the pandemic was misleading.
“Airlines should get their act together and pour more money into green fuels and clean aircraft.”
T&E said that long-haul carriers paid very little for their pollution in 2022, when taking their global emissions into account.
It calculated that Air France paid an average of €7 per tonne of carbon in 2022 for its flights worldwide.
By comparison, Ryanair paid an average of €44 per tonne of carbon because short-haul carriers are compelled to pay much more for their emissions under current market rules.
The EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) allows the likes of countries, companies, or manufacturing plants that emit greenhouse gases to buy and sell these emissions amongst themselves, as a kind of trade.
In response, Ryanair said ETS data was misleading as it excludes long-haul flights.
“Ryanair has long campaigned for ETS to extend to all departing flights from the EU,” a spokesperson said.
Long-haul flights are only 6% of the total EU flights, but emit more than 50% of EU aviation emissions, and yet they are excluded from paying ETS.
“Ryanair has the lowest CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre (66g) of any major airline, and therefore is not Europe’s top polluting airline.
“To further our sustainability, we have invested $22bn in 210 environmentally efficient ‘gamechanger’ aircraft which reduce fuel burn by 16% and noise by 40%.”
Emissions in aviation were estimated to be about 2.5% of the global total in the years before the pandemic.
Environment and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has called for airlines to contribute to a fund that compensates more vulnerable countries caught up in climate change.
All major greenhouse gas emitting sectors have reduced in the past 30 years except for transport, data shows.