Michael O’Leary

Michael O’Leary


  • Clongowes Wood College. [1]
  • Business, Trinity College Dublin. [2]


Michael O’Leary is the CEO of Irish budget airline Ryanair. [3]

Although Ryanair claims it is “Europe’s greenest and cleanest airline”, in 2019 the company was ranked as the 10thlargest emitter in Europe behind nine coal plants. Since then, Ryanair has advertised itself as Europe’s “lowest emissions airline”, prompting regulators to ban its campaign due to it being “misleading”. [4], [5]

Michael O’Leary has also been very critical of carbon taxing, both in aviation and farming, describing the idea of taxing something to reduce its use as “nonsense”. [6]

Throughout his career, O’Leary has rejected the science of climate change, calling greenhouse gas emissions regulations “absolute bloody nonsense” and claiming there is “no evidence to suggest the globe is warming”. [7], [8]

However, in Ryanair’s 2018 environmental policy document, O’Leary wrote that “aviation must play its role in addressing climate change” and stated the airline supports the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise. [9]

In 2019, O’Leary criticised the “flight shame movement” when he spoke at a press conference in Brussels as the chairman of lobby group Airlines for Europe (A4E). [10]

As well as his views on climate change, O’Leary has made a number of other controversial statements. He has described the owners of Stansted Airport as “overcharging rapists” and claimed that “the best thing you can do with environmentalists is shoot them.” [11], [12], [13]

In February 2020 O’Leary received widespread criticism for stating terrorists will “generally be males of a Muslim persuasion”, while families with children should be waived through airport security because there’s “zero” chance they are “bombers”. [14], [15]

In relation to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, O’Leary criticised the “lunacy” seen on social media, and the “hysteria” in the news coverage after Ryanair saw a dramatic decline in passengers and a steep drop in its share price. [16]

O’Leary is a keen farmer and rears various breeds of cattle. [17]

Stance on Climate Change

March 7, 2018

In an opening statement for Ryanair’s environmental policy document, O’Leary wrote: [9]

Aviation is the most efficient form of mass point-to- point transport, accounting for just 2% of EU man-made CO2 emissions.” [9]

However, the European Commission says aviation accounts for 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and according to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, air travel produces more emissions per km than any other mode of transport, except single-occupancy driving. [18], [19]

April 8, 2017

Speaking to Ireland’s RTE Radio One’s Countrywide programme, O’Leary said: [20]

I don’t accept that climate change is real. I don’t accept the link between carbon consumption and climate change.” [20]

He also said that cooling and warming had been “going on for years” and, regarding fears about global warming, said: [20]

This kind of nonsense that we all need to cut back on beef production or that we all need to eat vegetables or go vegan and all start cycling bicycles is not the way forward. I think it’s complete and utter rubbish.” [20]

Key Quotes

November 3, 2015

ON CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe, O’Leary described greenhouse gas emissions regulations as “absolute bloody nonsense” and said: [7]

The problem I have with the whole environmental debate, is that it’s shifted away from being global warming because they couldn’t stand up global warming, and it’s now ‘climate change’, I mean climate changes every day, it’s called weather.” [7]

On carbon taxing on airline tickets, O’Leary said: [7]

Taxing air travel simply because you want to be seen to do something … it does nothing for the environment, nor will it do anything for the environment.” [7]

January 21, 2012

O’Leary claimed there was “no evidence to suggest the globe is warming” on RTE’s Late Late show and said: [8]

From [the year] 50 to 75 they reduced, from 75 to 2000 they rose, and they’ve done nothing for the last 11 years which is why they never talk about global warming anymore, they now talk about climate change.” [8]

September 10, 2010

In an interview for the Independent, O’Leary said: [21]

The climate’s been changing since time immemorial. Do I believe there is global warming? No, I believe it’s all a load of bullshit. But it’s amazing the way the whole fucking eco-warriors and the media have changed. It used to be global warming, but now, when global temperatures haven’t risen in the past 12 years, they say ‘climate change’.” [21]

There’s absolutely no link between man-made carbon, which contributes less than 2 per cent of total carbon emissions [and climate change].” [21]

Key Actions

April 14, 2021

Speaking to CNBC, Leary acknowledged the need to combat climate change, stating that while he had previously been an “original sceptic,” environmental issues had “moved front and centre.” He added: “It is something that our customers and the people working here at Ryanair want us to focus on and we tend to be very responsive.” [23]

February 5, 2020

Ryanair’s advertising campaign claiming that it was Europe’s “lowest emissions airline” was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, which deemed the adverts “misleading”. [5]

The regulator claimed that evidence used to back up Ryanair’s claims were of “little value” due to some of its data coming from 2011. [5]

July 10, 2019

Speaking as chairman of lobby group Airlines for Europe (A4E) at a press conference in Brussels, O’Leary criticised the “flight shame movement” which he said was “Swedish-born,” and argued that the aviation industry was performing “remarkably well” and working towards a “greener, cleaner planet”. [10]

April 11, 2019

When asked whether carbon taxes would impact farming and aviation, O’Leary said: [6]

Both will be unsuccessful in what it is they’re trying to achieve. This idea that by taxing something we’re just going to reduce its use is nonsense.” [6]

April 1, 2019

Ryanair was named the 10th largest carbon emitter in Europe, joining nine coal plants on the list – the first time an industry other than coal made the rankings. Ryanair was responsible for 9.9 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions the previous year. [4]

Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment, called the airline “the new coal”. [4]

A Ryanair spokesperson subsequently described the company as “Europe’s greenest and cleanest airline” with the “lowest CO2 emissions per km travelled than any other airline”. [4]

April 18, 2018

In an interview for the Irish Farmers Journal, O’Leary described vegetarianism as “a fad” and when asked if veganism or vegetarianism would threaten traditional farming, he said that “there is no way that the world is going to live or turn to either a vegan diet or to a vegetarian diet”. [17]


  • Ryanair CEO. [3]
  • Airlines for Europe – former chairman. [22]

Social Media

O’Leary does not appear to be active on social media.


  1. Alison Healy. “School seeks support of famous past pupils,” Irish Times, March 14, 2005. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/Ca7h3
  2. Shelly Emling. “Spotlight: Michael O’Leary of Ryanair,” New York Times, March 23, 2007. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/0s3Cm
  3. Andrew Clark. “The Guardian profile: Michael O’Leary,” Guardian, June 24, 2005. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/qQjX3
  4. Arthur Neslen. “‘Ryanair is the new coal’: airline enters EU’s top 10 emitters list,” Guardian, April 1, 2019. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/9wwa9
  5. Helen Coffey. “Ryanair adverts claiming it is Europe’s ‘lowest emissions airline’ banned by regulator,” Independent, February 5, 2020. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/1jHTe
  6. Kevin O’Sullivan. “Idea of carbon tax on aviation ‘nonsense’, says Michael O’Leary,” Irish Times, April 11, 2019. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/TpCFF
  7. Kalyeena Makortoff. “Climate action hurting competition: Ryanair CEO,” CNBC, November 3, 2015. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/G2akY
  8. Michael O Leary on Global Warming,” YouTube video uploaded by user mick daniels on January 20, 2012. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  9. Ryanair Our Environmental Policy (PDF),” Ryanair. Archived April 15, 2020. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.
  10. Tim Hepher, Conor Humphries. “European airline chiefs push back against flight shaming, carbon taxes,” Reuters, July 10, 2019. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/G0oRS
  11. Tom Espiner. “Michael O’Leary: Ryanair’s outspoken boss,” BBC News, February 4, 2019. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/N0iSn
  12. Katherine Griffiths. “Ryanair chief calls Stansted’s owners ‘overcharging rapists’,” Independent, July 23, 2004. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/ICKyb
  13. John Bowen (2019). Low-Cost Carriers in Emerging Countries. Oxford, United Kingdom. Elsevier.
  14. Haroon Siddique. “Ryanair boss criticised for saying terrorists are ‘generally Muslim men’,” Guardian, February 22, 2020. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/rUoTZ
  15. Ben Ellery, Richard Ford, Alice Thomson. “Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary wants extra checks on Muslim men,” Times, February 22, 2020. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/SwRnQ
  16. James Sillars. “Coronavirus: Ryanair boss condemns ‘lunacy’ over outbreak,” Sky News, March 3, 2020. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/LmH6C
  17. Michael O’Leary speaks to the Irish Farmers Journal,” YouTube video uploaded by user Irish Farmers Journal on April 18, 2018. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.
  18. Reducing emissions from aviation,” European CommissionArchived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/8rJ9v
  19. Jocelyn Timperley. “Should we give up flying for the sake of the climate?” BBC, February 19, 2020. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/CZExY
  20. Sasha Brady. “Michael O’Leary slams climate change as ‘complete and utter rubbish’,” Independent, April 8, 2017. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/owSbT
  21. Martin Hickman. “Global warming? It doesn’t exist, says Ryanair boss O’Leary,” Independent, September 10, 2010. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/eFWKz
  22. Airlines for Europe reports on European ATC in 2018, chairman advocates for more competition,” Blue Swan Daily, March 8, 2019. Archived April 15, 2020. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/AflrG
  23. Silvia Amaro. “Environmentalists were seen as ‘nutters,’ Ryanair CEO says, and he was an ‘original skeptic,’” CNBC, April 14, 2021. Archived April 19, 2021. Archive.ph URL: https://archive.ph/p70m0 

Other Resources

Image credit: World Travel and Tourism Council (CC BY 2.0)

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