Irish multinationals fail to present credible plans to reduce corporate flying emissions

March 15, 2023
No Irish companies have set targets on the most climate intensive form of business travel - flying.

Not one Irish company has set a target to reduce corporate travel emissions, reveals the second edition of The Travel Smart ranking, an annual ranking on business travel. 

Out of 322 companies surveyed worldwide, only 50 have set targets to reduce business flying emissions. Of the companies who have targets, only four companies receive the “gold standard”, i.e. report air travel emissions and commit to reducing them by 50% or more, by 2025 or sooner. These are Novo Nordisk (Pharmaceuticals, Denmark), Swiss Re (Finance, Switzerland), Fidelity International (Finance, UK) and ABN Amro (Finance, Netherlands).

In the first-ever overview of reporting of non-CO2 emissions related to business flying, the ranking also finds that just one Irish company, Dublin-based Experian, reports on all greenhouse gas emissions associated with corporate flights. Globally, 40 companies are leading the way by reporting all greenhouse gas emissions associated with corporate flights. Pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and Pfizer and consulting companies BCG and Deloitte set the best example by considering the full impact of flying in their reporting. 

The climate impact of business flying extends further than CO2 emissions. On top of CO2, aircraft engines emit other gases – nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and water – and particulate matter (soot).  These are commonly referred to as non-CO2 emissions, and it is estimated that they account for two-thirds of total climate warming from flying. Yet very few companies reflect the total impact of business flights by accounting for non-CO2 effects. 

Aoife O’Leary, CEO of Opportunity Green, said: “Corporates are turning a blind eye to the harms done by flying for work. Most companies in Ireland are taking little to no action on business flying emissions, which renders any other travel targets meaningless in the context of tackling climate change. It’s disappointing that so few businesses align with science by reporting on the non-CO2 emissions of their air travel- the hidden part of the iceberg of aviation’s full climate impact. This is especially problematic as aviation pays no VAT or fuel tax and the Irish government abolished a tax on the sector in 2014”.

The topic of air travel, and specifically private jet use, has been discussed by Irish ministers in recent months, including by transport minister Eamon Ryan, who has stated he has not ruled out a tax on private jets landing and departing in the country. In addition, in a discussion of a new national private jet, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has said that a strong argument would be required to support its purchase.

Irish consulting giant Accenture is one of the top emitters listed in the Travel Smart Ranking (1), and yet the company has not set a target to reduce corporate travel emissions. But the analysis shows that setting such targets is possible and necessary, as companies of a similar size and sector like Deloitte have done so. 

The study shows that if 10% of companies – the biggest emitters of the ranking – set 50% reduction targets, this would go halfway towards achieving the global target of -50% in corporate air travel emissions by 2025. 

Reducing aviation emissions is now more crucial than ever if we are to stay within 1.5°C of global warming. For the critical decade until 2030, the best way to reduce aviation emissions is to fly less, as the timing for scale-up of sustainable fuels and zero-emissions aircraft is currently post-2030, and offsetting cannot substitute for reducing emissions. 

The Travel Smart Campaign calls upon companies to set ambitious targets to reduce corporate travel emissions, switch from air to rail travel where possible, and prioritise video conferencing as a substitute for long-haul flying. 

Aoife O’Leary concludes: “The biggest emitters have a disproportionate role to play in reducing their corporate flying emissions as the Irish government has failed in its duty to reduce the climate impact of aviation. There is no excuse for inaction – the means to achieve this are more accessible than ever before: rail travel when distances permit it, video conferencing, and support for government regulation to truly reduce aviation’s jumbo-jet-sized impact on the environment.”

Note to editors: 

Transport & Environment, together with a coalition of global partners, launched the Travel Smart Campaign in 2022 with a yearly edition of a corporate ranking on sustainable business travel practices. The campaign engages with businesses, with the objective that they reduce their corporate travel emissions by 50% or more of pre-Covid levels by 2025 or sooner.​

Opportunity Green is an NGO working to unlock the opportunities from tackling climate change using law, economics, and policy. It does this by building ambitious coalitions, supporting climate vulnerable countries, and finding innovative legal pathways for bold climate action, with particular emphasis on the aviation and shipping industries. At Opportunity Green we believe lawyers are obligated to analyse the existing legal systems and regulations to stop climate change. We use legal innovation to forge new pathways on climate action or where that is not possible, find pathways within the present legal structure to facilitate the legislation needed to slash carbon pollution.

The Travel Smart Ranking ranks 322 US, European and Indian companies according to 10 indicators, relating to air travel emissions, reduction targets and reporting. Top global flyers from the 17 countries of the ranking represent a sizable portion of business travel worldwide. The analysis sheds light on the significant efforts certain global businesses have still to make to reduce their corporate travel emissions. Companies are given an A, B, C or D grade. In this year’s edition of the ranking, 11 companies qualified for an A grade, 38 a B, whilst the overwhelming majority received a C (212) and 61 companies saw a D grade next to their name.

(1)  According to 2019 emissions reporting

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