EU nations may push for review of biofuels in aviation CO2 scheme

23 Feb 2018 | John McGarrity

The types of biofuels that can be used in the UN aviation agency ICAO’s carbon reduction scheme could be reviewed during the 2021-2023 pilot phase, a senior European Commission advisor told MEPs this week.

Peter Vis, an advisor to the EU executive on transport, said that a final draft to be published by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in June could be later “re-opened” before the first phase of the scheme starts in 2024, creating uncertainty for biofuels producers on what types of fuels will be eventually permitted for use during the compliance phases.

ICAO has proposed the share of biofuels used in aircraft should be 5 million mt by 2025, which is 2% of projected aviation fuel use; 128 million tonnes a year by 2040, (32% of projected aviation fuel use) and 285 million tonnes by 2050, (50% of overall demand).

Based on the criteria drafted so far, it looks likely that most feedstocks (including some palm oil) will be permitted for use during the pilot phase.

Tougher sustainability criteria further along the line could be a boon for producers of used oils and advanced biofuels as additives to jet fuel, although doubts persist on feasibility and availability of feedstocks.

But there is also the prospect that reviews requested by ICAO members could weaken green safeguards for alternative jet fuels (AJFs), Vis told a meeting of the European Parliament’s ENVI committee.

However Vis talked up the EC’s role in sticking up for green credentials through the eight EU member states that sit on ICAO’s ruling council.

“We have already secured that other criteria could be re-integrated at end of the pilot phase. Very few biofuels are currently being used in aviation and we secured retention of three very important criteria on sustainability,” Vis told MEPs.

Only countries can sit on ICAO’s 36-member council (of which only eight are EU member states), and not the EU itself, requiring the Commission to coordinate its input on CORSIA through the European Civil Aviation Conference.


EU lawmakers at the environment meeting expressed dismay that at least nine of 12 safeguards on biofuels use recommended by the advisory panel were removed in October, paving the way for many fuels with high life-cycle emissions to be mandated by the ICAO scheme in June.

NGO Transport and Environment says only two of the 12 proposed rules have survived the drafting process – a 10% greenhouse gas reduction target for biofuels compared to fossil jet fuel, and a ban on crops grown on land that was deforested after 2009.

MEPs also criticised CORSIA for a lack of transparency in the drafting stage, with many consultation documents marked confidential and circulated tightly between ICAO members, a process that one parliamentarian likened to the Church of Scientology.

Members of the committee want CORSIA to require airlines to disclose what types of biofuels and carbon offsets they use as part of the sector’s drive to cap greenhouse emissions at 2020 levels by 2050.

Critics of the draft rules for CORSIA say without disclosure and strong enforcement, the highly cost conscious airline industry will likely buy the cheapest – and often the most environmentally damaging  – offsets and biofuels, such as hydrotreated vegetable oil, which typically uses palm oil a feedstock.

MEPs only have a direct input on CORSIA though a delegated act related to the monitoring, reporting and verification of offsets, but are also putting direct pressure on the Commission to deliver environmental safeguards for biofuels.