New report from the Netherlands on the failings of aviation biofuels

A new report on biofuels used in aviation has been produced by Milieu Defensie, in the Netherlands.  The aviation industry places its hopes of achieving “carbon neutral growth” in future on extensive use of biofuels, as well as carbon offsets from other sectors. The new report shows that not only are the carbon emissions “well to wake” of biofuels for aviation small, but the conventional calculations ignore the non-CO2 effects – cirrus cloud induced by contrails, and NOx effects. These impacts are the same for biofuels as for conventional jet kerosene, and may as much as double the climate effect of jets flying at high altitude. The report points out that the carbon emissions caused by the growing of biofuels are not accounted for anywhere, under the current system – creating a large anomaly in the EU ETS.


The report is entitled

“Agrofuels in planes – heating the climate at a higher level”

(23 pages) and is at

Feb 2012.  Milieu Defensie (Netherlands)


The report’s Conclusion states:

A maximum of 50% of the climate impact of cruising aircraft is caused by CO2 emissions.

Other non-CO2 climate effects (contrails, induced cirrus cloud, NOx) are as powerful, or even more powerful when calculated using a 20-year time horizon or shorter. Neglecting these climate impacts, as commonly happens, cannot be justified, especially not for countries where aviation is a major contributor to climate emissions.

Using agrofuels in aviation will deliver only the same – no more, no less – benefits in terms of tonnes of avoided carbon emissions as using agrofuels in other transport modes, but does not address non-CO2-impacts that are particular to aircraft.

Adding to that it is always important to take into account that agrofuels often do not
even result in a net carbon emissions reduction, due te the large climate effects of indirect land use change.

The use of well-to-wake (+) analysis does not on its own imply that agrofuels cannot deliver any carbon savings from the aviation sector. However, using agrofuels to mitigate the climate impact of aviation growth is practically ineffective, as non-CO2-effects are not affected and will continue to grow.

This is the case for the effects on the atmosphere of aircraft on cruise altitude and
for the climate effects of increasing feedstocks for agrofuels. The negligible climate effects of bio-kerosene combined with the competition for scarce land, that is now used for food production or biodiversity conservation leads to the conclusion that there is little to win but much to lose.

Our report shows that if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided, it will without doubt
be necessary to limit the growth in aviation and to find approaches to substantially reduce aviation’s generation of contrails and AIC. Industry aspirations to continue business as usual growth without increasing the net climate effect are a dangerous illusion.


An extract from Page 13:
Europe aviation accounts for 3.5 % of European CO2 emissions. For the Netherlands the percentage is even higher, 5.7% of national CO2 emissions excluding international shipping. The European aviation industry aligns itself with the global aviation industry policy of using agrofuels as a solution. Air France-KLM sees ‘sustainable agrofuels’ as ‘the most promising route to achieving significant reductions in aviation’s CO2 emissions whilst at the same time providing security of supply and exemption from EU-ETS.

The growth perspective in the mature European aviation market will be below the global average of 4.5% the industry (IATA) assumes; to be able to assess the future impact of aviation on Europe’s climate forcing emissions, we assume a prolonged growth of 4% per annum, and the efficiency gains of 1.5% per year which the industry envisages.

Therefore, European airlines are expected to use 2.5% more fuel per year. If the aviation industry were to fuel its growth entirely by using agrofuels, the effect on emissions would be 2.5% emissions growth due to non-CO2 effects plus 0.6 times 2.5% for climate emissions due to the production of bio-kerosene crops. In many cases, land use change would cause even more emissions related to crop production. While aviation’s share of European climate emissions would rise from 5.5% to 9.8%, airlines would still be able to present this as carbon-neutral growth.


An extract from Page 6:

The aviation ETS motivates airlines to use agrofuels because the ETS falsely assumes that agrofuels have no net greenhouse gas emissions.

Using agrofuels therefore makes zero-emission growth possible, on paper at least. This is a result of the Kyoto Protocol which uses the same calculation method and of the decision to neglect climate effects of aeroplanes other than CO2 emissions.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions related to the production of agrofuels are accounted for in the country where the components are grown.

The credit is assigned to the country where the fuel is burned, which assumes that the CO2 emitted was absorbed from the atmosphere when the fuel components were grown.

This seems reasonable, but the problem is that countries that produce agrofuels have no obligations under the Protocol. These agrarian emissions are therefore not accounted for anywhere. This is a big caveat as we will see in Chapter 5.

Another aspect is the non-CO2 climate impacts of aeroplanes that are responsible for at least half the climate impact of a plane. Those have also been left out of the EU aviation ETS ( the option to buy allowances from other industries without taking into account non-CO2 emissions that in the aviation sector are responsible for at least half the climate impact).


“Agrofuels in planes – heating the climate at a higher level”