Don’t trash the rainforest for “green” jet fuel!

An airliner over torched rainforest Airliner over a torched rainforest (montage) (© commons.wikimedia.orgCC BY-SA 3.0)

The international aviation industry wants to achieve “carbon-neutral growth” using biofuels. This would almost inevitably involve palm oil and the further destruction of rainforests for oil palm plantations in the name of “green” travel. Please join us in speaking out against the ICAO’s misguided plan.

Call to action

To: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

The production of aviation biofuels using palm oil would have a massive environmental impact and be anything but "green". Please scrap this misguided plan.

Read letter

Global air traffic is growing rapidly – and with it, the environmental problems caused by the aviation industry. Aircraft are currently responsible for around five percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The UN’s International Aviation Agency (ICAO) predicts that by 2050, the aviation industry's CO2 emissions will increase by a factor of five – to 2.5 billion tons annually.

The ICAO’s proposed solution: “carbon-neutral growth” – made possible by trade in CO2 offsets, the use of biofuel, and aircraft with greater fuel efficiency.

CO2 offsets do not actually reduce emissions, however. The airline industry would only be buying the “right” to pollute, and the funds thus raised would go toward climate protection projects around the world. Experts doubt that this practice actually results in a net benefit for the environment.

Furthermore, vast tracts of land would have to be dedicated to plantations to produce the biofuel necessary to replace only a few percent of the 260 million tons of fossil fuel that the aviation industry burns annually.

In addition to vegetable oils, the ICAO proposes using algae, wood and organic waste as potential raw materials for biofuel, yet production methods on a suitable scale have not yet been developed. Experimental cultivation of camelina – an oil crop – for use in test flights resulted in very low yields.

The most likely biofuel scenario is that the industry will use hydrotreated palm oil, which is already being produced commercially by companies such as Neste Oil, Eni and Repsol. To make room for ever more oil palm plantations, tropical rainforests are being cleared, releasing enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Please support our petition to the ICAO – and avoid unnecessary air travel.


The aviation industry requires vast quantities of fuel. In its 2010 Environmental Report, the ICAO predicts that consumption will rise from 187 million tons in 2006 to between 461 and 541 million tons in 2036. For the year 2015, the ICAO forecasts a consumption of 260 million tons. In 2050, fuel consumption is expected to be between 700 and 900 million tons.

In its 2016 Environmental Report (50 MB!), the ICAO explores a variety of scenarios with regard to fuel consumption. According to the report, meeting the demand for aviation biofuel would mean building 170 biofuel refineries every year and an an investment of up to $60 billion annually.

The aviation industry’s ITAKA Project has shown how difficult it is to produce even small amounts of biofuel for test flights. The project, which was subsidized by the EU to the tune of €10 million, is experimenting with the cultivation of an oilseed crop, Camelina sativa, in Spain and Rumania. Marginal soils were used to reduce competition with food crops.

Experimental farms in the Castilla La Mancha and Aragon regions yielded from 182.5 to 292 liters of camelina oil per hectare. The project operators claim that yields of more than 730 liters per hectare would be possible on fertile soils. Based on camelina oil’s density of 0.92 kg/l, this amounts to a yield of 0.672 tons per hectare (t/ha). To put that into perspective, sunflower yields 0.86 t/ha and rapeseed 1.33 t/ha.

Approximately 2,000 tons of camelina oil were produced on a total area of ​​10,500 hectares, as can be calculated from the project specifications. Since the amount was not enough for the desired test flights, additional camelina oil was purchased in the United States. Used cooking oil (UCO) has also been used to produce aviation biofuel. However, the project operators state that waste oils cannot be regarded as a primary raw material due to the limited quantities available and the fact that they are already being used in other sectors.

The raw oils were processed into hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and hydropocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFAs) in the refineries of project partner Neste Oil. Hydrotreatment is the only method currently in large-scale commercial use that can produce biofuel suitable for use in aircraft, as the properties of hydrotreated vegetable oils are very similar to fossil kerosene. Biodiesel (fatty acid methyl ester – FAME) is not suitable as aviation fuel.

Hydrotreatment methods can be used in existing oil refineries as well as dedicated plants. Neste Oil already operates four large HVO refineries: two plants with a capacity of 190,000 tons in Finland, and two further with a capacity of 800,000 tons in Rotterdam and Singapore. According to Neste Oil’s 2015 annual report, the main raw materials used were 870,000 tons of crude palm oil (CPO) and 1.93 million tons of waste (animal fats and palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD).

Italy’s Eni and the Spanish oil companies Repsol and Cepsa are also producing HVO from palm oil. Total, a French oil and gas company, is building an HVO refinery in the harbor of Marseilles. Palm oil is the cheapest and most highly available vegetable oil on the world market. Around 65 million tons are currently produced every year.

Further information:

Biofuelwatch: The high-flown fantasy of aviation biofuels

Fern, Sept. 27, 2016: International declaration denounces ICAO offset plan

FERN, Sept. 9, 2016: Cheating the climate: the problems with aviation industry plans to offset emissions

Oakland Institute: Eco-skies - the global rush for aviation biofuel

Friends of the Earth: Flying in the face of the facts - Greenwashing the aviation industry with biofuels


To: the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We welcome the aviation industry’s concern about its environmental impact. However, your plans in their present form – carbon trading and the use of biofuels – will not contribute to reducing it.

Carbon trading and the financing of carbon-offsetting initiatives will not reduce aircraft emissions. Carbon trading means paying to shift the responsibility for reducing emissions onto others.

Producing large quantities of aviation biofuel will almost inevitably require hydrotreated palm oil, yet the palm oil industry destroys rainforests for its plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon.

All of the remaining production processes and raw materials being considered by the ICAO for the production of biofuels are not feasible.

We therefore consider your plans for “carbon-neutral growth” to be a deception of the public. The only truly environmentally friendly solution is a reduction in air traffic.

Kind regards,


The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
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