Rainforest Norway Report Finds Aviation Emissions Reduction Targets Could Drive Deforestation
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
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The aviation industry aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50% in 2050, compared to the 2005 level, without limiting growth.

To avoid undermining the SDGs and limit global temperature rise, a report by Rainforest Foundation Norway argues that the aviation industry should avoid using biofuels from feedstocks, such as palm oil and soy, that have a high deforestation risk.

It recommends reassessing the realistic potential for alternative aviation fuel deployment between now and 2050.

3 October 2019: Rainforest Foundation Norway has released a report that analyzes the impacts of the aviation industry’s emissions reduction goals on deforestation. The report cautions that the production of alternative aviation fuels is likely to drive forest clearance and generate carbon dioxide emissions from land use change, underscoring how emissions reductions goals in one sector can have a negative impact on others.

The report titled, ‘Destination deforestation: Aviation biofuels, vegetable oil and land use change,’ explains that the aviation industry aims to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50% in 2050, compared to the 2005 level, without limiting growth. The aviation industry plans to work towards this goal by shifting from conventional jet fuel to alternative aviation fuels. According to Rainforest Foundation Norway’s report, the only current technology operating at a commercial scale to produce aviation fuel from electricity is the ‘hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids, or HEFA’ process, which produces jet fuel from animal fats and vegetable oils. The report raises concerns about the cost of fuels produced using HEFA or other alternatives and cautions that the HEFA industry’s sustainability and scalability is limited by the need for feedstock inputs, such as palm oil and soy oil, both of which are associated with tropical deforestation.

The report questions “whether current rates of aviation growth can ever be sustainable in a carbon constrained world.”

Based on the aviation industry’s projected fuel needs, the report states that, if palm and soy oils each contribute a quarter of the feedstock demand for the aviation industry goal, it “could drive 3.2 million hectares of forest loss and 5 gigatonnes of land use change carbon dioxide emissions.” The report concludes that the HEFA technology is “simply not appropriate to delivering the volumes […] needed for a large-scale transition to alternative fuels in the aviation industry” and therefore recommends identifying more commercially viable and scalable technology options. Within this context, the report questions “whether current rates of aviation growth can ever be sustainable in a carbon constrained world.”

To avoid undermining the SDGs and limit global temperature rise, the report argues the aviation industry should avoid using biofuels from feedstocks, such as palm oil and soy, that have a high deforestation risk. The report therefore recommends reassessing the realistic potential for alternative aviation fuel deployment between now and 2050. The report further recommends, inter alia: focusing on mobilizing investment for demonstrating the potential of electrofuels and cellulosic biofuels at commercial scale; and reprioritizing additional options to decarbonize aviation, including electric propulsion and novel airframes. [Rainforest Foundation Norway Press Release] [Publication: Destination deforestation: Aviation biofuels, vegetable oil and land use change] [Rainforest Foundation Norway Website]

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