Aviation climate targets may drive 3.2M ha of deforestation

The aviation industry’s 2050 climate targets may result in 3.2M ha of deforestation due to increased demand for soya and palm oil in aviation biofuels, Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) says.

The NGO wrote on 1 October that the aviation industry was aiming to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50% in 2050 (compared to 2005), without limiting growth. RFN said that near total replacement of fossil fuels would be needed to meet this target.

To achieve the goals, there would be an additional demand of 35M tonnes of palm oil, 3.5M tonnes of palm oil by-products (such as palm fatty acid distillate or PFAD) and 35M tonnes of soya oil in 2030. The current global annual production of palm oil was 70M tonnes.

It also noted that previous studies, including some from the EU Commission, had shown that the climate impact of producing palm oil and soya oil-based biofuels was even higher than continuing to use fossil fuels.

A number of technologies were available to produce aviation biofuels, or even to produce aviation fuels from electricity. However, the only one of these currently operating at a commercial scale was the hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) process to produce jet fuel from vegetable oils and animal fats.

The cheapest and most readily available feedstock for HEFA was palm and soya oils, RFN said.

The increased demand could drive 5bn tonnes of land use change CO2 emissions in 2030, unless measures were taken to avoid using the most readily available aviation biofuel technology and feedstocks.