The latest report of the European Energy Community, headquartered in Vienna, and the network of nongovernmental organizations led by the Alliance for Health and the Environment (HEAL) and the European Environmental Protection Organization, titled “Europe Beyond Coal”, warns that 16 thermal power plants in the Western Balkans pollute the region and the whole of Europe more than all the other 250 European coal-fired power plants together.
Air pollution from the plants is responsible for an estimated 3,900 premature deaths, 8,500 cases of bronchitis in children, and other chronic illnesses, the NGOs said in a report issued on February 19th.
In 2016 alone, 16 Communist-era plants in the Western Balkans “spewed out as much sulphur dioxide (SO2) pollution as the entire fleet” of the EU’s 250 coal-fired plants, the groups said in a press release.
One power plant in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ugljevik, “emitted more SO2 than all German coal power plants put together,” they added.
And levels for particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emitted by the plants are “equally alarming,” the groups said.
The report, signed by five different environmentalist groups, identified no less than 16 outdated coal power plants across the Western Balkans which are deemed a threat to public health and economic liability for the whole of Europe, adding that “people in the EU bear the majority of the health impacts and costs.”
The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Sandbag, the Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, the CEE Bankwatch Network, and Europe Beyond Coal groups urged the EU to use “all of the tools available to improve health, prolong lives, save health costs and increase productivity both in the EU and in the Western Balkan region.”
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Based on the methodology by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission, the Chronic Coal Pollution report shows that every year, air pollution from Western Balkan coal power plants is responsible for an estimated 3,900 premature deaths, 8,500 cases of bronchitis in children and other chronic illnesses. The health issues these plants cause adds up to lost productivity and health costs of up to EUR 11,535 million.
Reducing pollution as a condition for EU accession
In addition, the levels of particulate matter in the air and nitrogen oxides are equally alarming, the report warned.
“Air pollution knows no borders and is still an invisible killer in Europe. A significant amount of pollution from the Western Balkans travels into the EU. Pollution from the Western Balkans adds to the already poor air quality in the EU countries, making it harder, especially for the adjacent EU neighbours, to meet air quality standards. It is high time that EU policy-makers step up efforts to clean up the air and decarbonise the power sector in the Southeastern European region,” said Vlatka Matkovic Puljic, Senior Health and Energy Officer at HEAL, and lead author of the report.
“Countries that choose to ignore such demands (for reduction in air pollution) should not be readily admitted into the EU, because joining the European Union in the future should not be possible unless governments in the region ensure a drastic reduction of environmental pollution and if they do not radically increase their responsibility for the health condition of citizens in their countries,” Matkovic-Puljic adds.
The French daily, Liberation reminds that the Western Balkan countries should begin to reduce their harmful emissions and according to international treaties they have arbitrarily committed to. In addition to the Stabilization and Association Agreement that all countries of the region have with the European Union, there is also the Energy Community Treaty, according to which most of the thermoelectric power plants in the region already had to drastically reduce harmful emissions.
The EU member states plan to shut down all coal-fired power plants by 2031 in order to achieve the goals agreed at the Paris Climate Change Summit, but such targets are jeopardized due to the Balkan region lagging behind and lacking awareness and money for the transition on clean energy.
(Nova Ekonomija, 24.02.2019)
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