Curing Chronic Coal – Poland

Polish energy generation is heavily dependent on the burning of coal, with over 70% of power generated by coal plants. As the Polish government is about to launch its update on its 2040 Energy Strategy (PEP), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) has published part three of its ‘Curing Chronic Coal’ series, which shows that the earlier Poland phases out coal power, the greater the health benefits and saved health costs to society will be.

The methodology and technical analysis in this report was carried out by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and considers 52 coal-fired power plants, which contribute the majority of air pollutant emissions. In addition, 39 gas installations were included, as well as 50 combined heating and power plants (CHP).

Ending coal power generation by 2030, vis-a-vis a coal phase-out in 2049, would avoid:

  • 494,399 additional days of asthma symptoms in asthmatic children
  • 57,038 cases of bronchitis in healthy children
  • 38,5 million restricted activity and lost work days
  • 35,700 hospitalisations
  • 24,000 premature deaths due to PM2.5 pollution only

Recommendations for decision makers in Poland on coal power

  • Move away, as quickly as possible, from coal and fossil gas combustion to generate heat and electricity by closing down coal- and gas-fired power plants and coal mines. Do not invest in new capacities based on fossil fuel combustion.
  • Immediately set a binding date for the phasing out of coal combustion for heat and power generation.
  • Make conscious choices for energy strategies and measures, based on a health and environmental impact assessment, considering the economic benefits and costs of local, national and global impacts.
  • Consider the scientific evidence confirming the harmful impact of fossil fuel combustion emissions on the health of people in Poland. Involve science and health sector representatives in deliberations and decision-making on the energy transition.
  • Organise transparent, inclusive and timely public consultations to include experts’ and people’s opinions on the future of energy and heating policy issues.
  • Implement reliable and science-based education (for primary, secondary and tertiary levels) on the health impacts of air pollution and climate change; develop prevention programmes to mitigate the health effects of climate change and air pollution; include the topic of climate change and air pollution’s health impact in the curricula of medical studies.
  • Avoid false solutions, that oer a misleading sense of solving the problem, e.g. replacing coal with gas instead of a determined and well-planned end to combusting any fossil fuels and burning biomass.
  • Widely support the development of renewable energy sources, including clearly presented and effectively communicated mechanisms for renewable and prosumer-based power generation; eliminate the current barriers to the development of renewable energy sources, develop and support energy efficiency; disseminate and finance energy measures.
  • Prepare Just transition mechanisms for the power sector including training and vocational support programmes.
  • Provide public statistics and data concerning the health effects of power generation based on fossil fuels combustion.
  • Fully support the EU’s climate policy; and set ambitious national objectives for greenhouse gas emission reduction and the share of renewable energy in the energy mix, as well as energy savings.

Recommendations for local authority representatives

  • Promote solutions for the development of dispersed, prosumer-based, civic renewable power generation.
  • Present transparent and clear rules to people on how to use subsidies to allow them to end fossil fuel-powered heating and electricity.
  • Engage people in solution planning and implementation, and use participatory tools at every stage of strategic decision making on the energy transition and the region’s future.
  • Engage local healthcare experts in deliberations and decisions on the health effects of the dependence on fossil fuel combustion and how to switch to healthy energy.
  • Provide reliable air quality monitoring, and air quality and weather forecasts (including extreme weather incidents) and inform people about how to protect themselves against pollution and the effects of climate change (using the Regional Safety Centre’s alert messages
  • Educate people about the energy transition, the benefits of phasing out fossil fuel combustion and the use of renewable energy sources. and local media).

Recommendations for the health sector

  • Become engaged in public and policy debates on the health effects of fossil fuels in Poland and energy transition, including on clean air, mitigating the effects of climate change and health prevention.
  • Raise decision-makers and society’s awareness of the health consequences of air pollution and climate change resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels, and talking to patients about these issues.
  • Emphasise the total costs – considering external health costs – of energy generation based on fossil fuels and the health benefits resulting from a gradual phasing out of fossil fuel combustion.
  • Promote health impact assessments as a tool for correctly analysing the health consequences of all decisions, plans and strategies.
  • Encourage the active participation of the representatives of the Ministry of Health in developing and implementing activities and strategies concerning clean air, energy and climate policies.
  • Disseminate publications confirming the disastrous impact of air pollution and climate change on public health, taking into account particularly vulnerable groups: children, pregnant women, elderly and chronically ill persons. For example, The Lancet Countdown, publications of the World Health Organisation and national centres, such as the National Public Health Institute and the National Institute of Hygiene.
  • Support letters and appeals calling for the protection of public health against the negative impact of environmental factors including, but not limited to, air pollution and climate change; join existing initiatives established by the health protection sector’s representatives.

Weronika Michalak, Poland Director, HEAL; Vlatka Matkovic, Senior Science Policy Officer, HEAL; Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director, HEAL; Modelling & Technical analysis: Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA; Lyder Ulvan, CREA; Erika Uusivuori, CREA

Partners: Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)

Europe, Poland