Dublin Airport generates the same carbon emissions as 1.4 million cars every year

Twenty airports generate the same amount of carbon emissions as 58 coal plants based on latest findings

Dublin Airport generates 2.8 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the yearly carbon emissions of 1.4 million cars, according to the latest findings of Airport Tracker which monitors pollutants emitted at the world’s main airports.

This year’s tracker, issued on Thursday, shows Dublin Airport generates significant volumes of the worst air pollutants associated with vehicular traffic – nitrogen oxides (NOx) and PM2.5 (particulate matter) – equivalent to the yearly emissions of 520,000 cars.

Just 20 airports, headed by Dubai airport, generated 231 million tonnes of CO2 – the same amount as 58 coal plants in 2019 – the year for which latest data is available. It “shows the disproportionate climate and health impact of just a small number of airports”, it says.

Dublin Airport operator DAA declined to comment on the findings.


The tracker is compiled by global affairs think tank ODI, in partnership with the NGO Transport & Environment. Data was provided by the International Council on Clean Transportation.


Dublin Airport generated 2.8 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 in 2019, 2.59mt of which arose from passenger traffic – but was not in top 20 worst airports. Shannon Airport generated 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent to the yearly emissions of 100,000 cars and NOx and PM2.5 volumes equivalent to those of 30,000 cars yearly.

Combining impacts of passenger and freight transport, Dubai International Airport produced the equivalent CO2 emissions of 5.03 coal plants, while Heathrow produced the equivalent of 4.77 coal plants. London’s six airports together produced 27 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 and 8,900 tonnes of NOx and 83 tonnes of PM2.5.

ODI’s report is supported by research from Stay Grounded, a network aimed at reducing air traffic and building a climate-just transport system, and UECNA, an umbrella for airport community groups.

Globally, air pollution is the fourth largest risk factor for human health, killing 6.7 million people in 2019, while in 2018, air pollution had associated economic costs of €193 billion to the European economy, it says.

On airports backing expensive so-called sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), which are central to their decarbonisation strategies, it finds “currently, SAFs account for only 0.1 per cent of jet fuel consumption and effective decarbonisation would require production increasing from a few hundred million litres today to over 400 billion litres by 2050″.

Expected efficiency gains from technological advancements are likely to be offset by increased demand as the industry bounces back, it warns.

“If current growth trajectories continue and the uptake of clean technologies does not accelerate, emissions generated by airports will boom, putting millions of people at risk.”

In response, Magdalena Heuwieser of Stay Grounded said: “Aircraft noise levels are continuously exceeded, and we completely lack EU standards on ultrafine particles, which are a major health hazard.

“Key measures must be taken immediately to protect the health of workers and communities surrounding airports – like night flight bans, or simple jet fuel improvements to have at least the same standards as car fuel. But technology won’t solve the whole problem, a reduction of the number of flights is most effective and needed,” she added.

The research shows gaps in decarbonising aviation, said Shandelle Steadman of ODI. “Airports aren’t reporting these emissions and often slip under the radar, but without tackling localised emissions at the airport level, the sector’s climate and health impact will only worsen; damaging our health, livelihoods and climate.”

Jo Dardenne, aviation director at Transport & Environment said: “Pollution around airports is growing year on year. It affects millions of people, who breathe in toxic emissions and develop health conditions as a result, yet policymakers are brushing the problem under the carpet.”

Exponential growth of the sector and of airports is incompatible with their climate goals, especially considering the slow uptake of clean technologies, she added.

“The sector led us to believe that they would bounce back better after the pandemic; they’ve certainly bounced back, but without action, the sector’s climate and health impact isn’t going to get any better.”

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times