EU’s New Law on ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuels’ Fails to Be Truly Sustainable

by | 27 Apr 2023 | Press Release

  • The new ReFuelEU law, part of the EU Fit for 55 package, was announced yesterday
  • The Stay Grounded network fears this could lead to a massive demand for biomass and energy, competing with other sectors and leading to carbon colonialism
  • The focus on ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuels’ diverts attention away from the much-needed reduction of aviation 

April 27th, 2023 – Yesterday, the European Parliament and Council announced binding targets for the aviation industry to blend fossil kerosene with substitutes called ‘Sustainable Aviation Fuel’ (SAF). The global Stay Grounded network, which represents over 200 member organisations, fears that these are not as sustainable as they sound.

“The focus on fuel substitutes is a smokescreen to dodge the fact that the only truly sustainable planes are the ones that stay on the ground”, argues Magdalena Heuwieser, Stay Grounded spokesperson. “It is impossible to power planes truly sustainably at the quantities envisioned. We need a reduction of aviation, rather than using precious feedstock and renewable energy for luxury emissions like private jets or weekend shopping trips.”

Data shows that if all jet fuel used today was replaced with e-fuels, that would require two and a half times the renewable electricity available globally (in 2019). It is unclear where the EU thinks this should come from.

The new EU jet fuel blend is supposed to be 2% SAF by 2025, 6% by 2030, and 70% by 2050. This includes a “minimum share of the most modern and environmentally-friendly synthetic fuels”: 1.2% between 2030-2031, and 2% between 2032 and 2035.

Stay Grounded points out that 1.2% ‘environmentally-friendly’ fuels by 2030 is an extremely small amount. Moreover, these, supposedly green, fuels include those made from nuclear energy. The blending mandate also covers biofuels and recycled carbon fuels.

“We welcome that airplanes will not be able to use food and feed crops like palm oil. However, allowing fuel from scarce waste and animal fats is problematic and could open the door to land grabbing. Also, using animal fats for airplane tanks could fuel the animal slaughter industry”, says Heuwieser.

The strong demand for waste agrofuels coming from the EU leads to competition with biodiesel in other sectors, and could incentivise imports from other countries where standards are lower. These countries could then export their waste oil and produce crop-based biofuels for their own demand, again fuelling land grabbing.

The aviation industry will receive about €2 billion public funding from the EU carbon market for SAF. Meanwhile, there is a lack of money to foster truly sustainable alternatives like affordable and comfortable railways or ferries powered by electricity.

The elephant in the room remains the lack of regulations on fossil jet fuel – which according to this law will still make up 94% by 2030. Stay Grounded demands to finally put in place a kerosene tax which is up for EU discussion, as well as easy and quick solutions to reduce kerosene’s non-CO2 climate impacts.

“ReFuelEU now demands airlines to soon monitor their aromatic concentration and sulphur content. This is a first step, but it should have happened decades ago. What we need now are quick measures to reduce the non-CO2 impacts of flights. This of course needs to go along with caps and bans as well as further measures to reduce demand, like a Frequent Flyer Levy”, concludes Heuwieser.

Stay Grounded is a global network representing over 200 member organisations, campaigning for a reduction of air traffic and a climate-just mobility system.


Magdalena Heuwieser, +43 670 353 43 11,