The head of the no-frills airline Ryanair has launched a vitriolic attack on the Stern report on climate change, claiming that shooting the world's cow population would do more to combat global warming than banning low-cost air travel.
Michael O'Leary, chief executive of the Dublin-based carrier, said that aviation was responsible for just 2 per cent of European Union carbon emissions. If "eco nuts" were really serious about tackling climate change they should support nuclear power and a clampdown on livestock farming which was responsible for more greenhouse gases than the airline industry, he said.
Referring to last week's report from the former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern on the economics of climate change, which warned that rising carbon emissions could wipe out 20 per cent of the world's wealth if not tackled, Mr O'Leary said: "A lot of lies and misinformation has been put about by eco nuts on the back of a report by an idiot economist."
Air travel is said to be the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases and critics claim that if it is not curbed then, by 2050, aviation will account for all the carbon permits which will be available under the EU's emissions trading system.
But Mr O'Leary disputed this, saying that compared to the energy industry, which produces 26 per cent of carbon in the EU, aviation was a tiny part of the problem. He also claimed that "environmental headbangers" were talking nonsense when they claimed that aviation was the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions. "Coal-fired and oil-fired power stations are the biggest contributor of carbon but I have yet to hear any fearless eco warriors advocating nuclear power as they drive around in their SUVs to their next protest meeting."
Mr O'Leary said airlines were over-taxed because, unlike motorists, they had to pay for all their infrastructure and the "fresh air" they flew in through air-traffic control charges. "Aviation is neither the cause of global warming nor the solution. Taxes won't reduce emissions." But he added that if governments insisted on imposing environmental taxes on airlines, then they should target "fat and overfed" business class travellers.
With its new, fuel-efficient aircraft, Ryanair produced 50 per cent fewer emissions per seat and 45 per cent less fuel-burn than long-haul flag-carrying airlines with ageing fleets, he added.
He was talking as Ryanair reported record pre-tax profits of €372m (£250m) for the first half of the year.
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