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Aviation Industry Plans Roadmap for Faster Forest Destruction

Use of Biofuels in Airplanes Will Lead to Faster Deforestation and Climate Change; Activists Urge the EU to End Subsidies for Biofuels to Avoid Disaster for Forest Dependent Communities and the Environment. A roadmap for introducing biofuel blends into commercial jet fuel, to be discussed today at the World Biofuels Conference in Amsterdam, will lead to faster deforestation and climate change. It also spells disaster for Indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities and small farmers. Global Forest Coalition, Airport Watch, the STOP GE Trees Campaign and Biofuelwatch warn that agrofuel [1] use by airlines will increase the industry’s climate impacts by converting forests, grasslands and farmland into biofuel plantations, including genetically engineered trees.

Agrofuels for planes have only recently been developed and plant oil is expected to be allowed in commercial flights later this year. Finnish company Neste Oil has announced that it can produce jet fuel from palm oil on a large-scale. Most of their palm oil comes from Malaysian plantation company IOI, which is involved in a series of land conflicts, including in Sarawak. There, a court case was recently raised by indigenous Kayak communities that have seen their land grabbed and forest cleared for oil palm plantations now owned by IOI. [2]

The use of palm oil and other vegetable oil – currently the cheapest feedstock – for aircraft deeply worries Indigenous communities. “Forest destruction and the displacement of Indigenous peoples in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere will be the price for European and other airlines ‘carbon neutral growth’ scam, says Hubertus Samangun from the Global Forest Coalition.

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme falsely classifies all agrofuels as ‘carbon neutral’. A new EU-commissioned report, however, confirms that existing EU biofuel policies are expected to cause serious environmental harm; the carbon released when forests and grasslands are turned into plantations exceeds the benefits of these so-called biofuels.

According to John Stewart from Airport Watch, aviation companies are using the prospect of agrofuels to greenwash airport expansion. “Europe’s aviation industry is responsible for the fastest growing greenhouse gas emissions of any sector in the economy. Now, agrofuels are being used to justify ever more airport expansion. All impacts on climate, forests and communities are being ignored. We need different policies which tackle demand rather than using agrofuels as an excuse to justify boosting aviation expansion.”

The European Commission is funding research and development of agrofuels for aircraft. [3] Five test flights with up to 50% biofuel blends in one engine have so far been carried out. [4]

Commercial methods for making jet fuel using trees and sugarcane are also in the pipeline. One US project, announced in Maryland, is genetically engineering poplar trees specifically for jet-fuel production. [5]

Forest campaigners warn for the risk of genetically engineered trees. “The escape of engineered pollen and seeds from genetically engineered tree plantations will inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests hundreds of kilometres away. The results of this genetic contamination are predicted to be very serious both for humans and wildlife”, says Anne Petermann, coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. “Additionally, making airline fuel out of trees will create a massive new demand for wood that will in turn greatly accelerate deforestation all over the world—both for tree plantation expansion and for wood pulp.

Although ‘novel’ biofuels, particularly from algae, are being promoted, those are not even close to being viable. [6]

The groups dismiss claims about ‘sustainable biofuels’ for aviation, given that this potentially large new market will be additional to already fast-expanding and highly destructive agrofuels industry for cars and power stations and instead call for policies which stop airport expansion in Europe and elsewhere.



[1] Many environmental groups prefer the word ‘agrofuels’ over biofuels to reflect the agro-industrial production of the feedstocks for these fuels. See also the report ‘The true cost of agrofuels’

[2] For a BBC investigation into IOI’s activities in Sarawak, see

[4] Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines and KLM have carried out test flights, with further ones announced in 2010 by Jet Blue, Interjet and Aigle Azure.

[3] For details of EU funding for research and development of biofuels for aviation, see:

[5] See:

[6] A recent peer-reviewed study shows that the energy balance and the water requirement of algal biofuels are currently far worse than for corn ethanol and other current agrofuels: Life-Cycle Assessment of Biofuels from Microalgae, L Lardon et al, Environment Science Technology, 27th July 2009. No commercial production of biofuels from algae or halophytes exists at present.

World Biofuels Markets, 15-17 March 2010, Amsterdam,

The Global Forest Coalition is a worldwide network of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations from over 35 countries, working on rights-bases forest policy.

Airport Watch is an umbrella movement which unites the national environmental organisations and the airport community groups opposed to the aggressive go-for-growth policy of aviation expansion outlined in the Aviation White Paper.

The STOP GE Trees Campaign is a national and international alliance of organizations that have united toward the goal of prohibiting the ecologically and socially devastating release of genetically engineered trees into the environment

Biofuelwatch is a campaign group that campaigns against industrial bio-energy.

17 Mar, 2010
Posted in Forests and Climate Change