Curing Chronic Coal

The Western Balkan region is notorious for old and highly polluting coal power plants.

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) 2019 report on chronic coal pollution in the Western Balkan region showed that the 16 outdated coal power plants are a public health and economic liability for the whole of Europe. Air pollution from coal burning also reduces productivity and causes huge costs to society, in addition to the many health problems. Phasing out coal sooner rather than later will bring real and tangible benefits to the people of the region.

This report by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) with CREA modeling and analysis shows that air pollution from coal power plants between 2020 and 2030 will have caused a total of more than 64,265 deaths. Deaths from air pollution will continue to rise to more than 77,234 if Western Balkan countries continue business as usual coal burning until 2050 and assuming compliance with existing legislation.

This publication aims to illustrate the difference an earlier coal phase out date would make. It provides the details on mortality, morbidity, hospital admissions, impacts on children’s health, productivity and costs and offers recommendations to policy makers as well as health communities.

Phasing out coal power by 2030 vs. 2050 would avoid

  • 272,993 additional days of asthma symptoms in asthmatic children
  • 32,476 cases of bronchitis in healthy children
  • 18 million restricted activity and lost work days
  • 2,657,043 sick days off work
  • 6,000 hospitalisations
  • 11,768 premature deaths due to PM2.5 pollution
  • over 1,200 premature deaths due to other pollutants
  • 28 billion EUR in health costs

Recommendations for decision makers in Western Balkan countries on coal power

  • Prioritise enforcing the Large Combustion Plants Directive for existing plants by the end of 2027 at the latest. Ensure all pollution abatement investments in coal plants are in line with the Best Available Techniques (BAT) under Directive 2010/75/EU for large combustion plants. This will better protect public health and avoid the need for additional investments in a few years.
  • Choose full decarbonisation of the energy sector to protect public health and to ensure energy security.
  • Prioritise public health by closing all existing coal fired plants, preferably by 2030.
  • Avoid investments, refurbishments and prolongations of life for coal plants beyond 2030.
  • Avoid false solutions including the conversion of coal plants to gas or biomass. Such conversions are polluting and continue to fuel climate change and cause disease.

Recommendations for European Union decision makers and international donors

  • Do not support companies that are planning new coal power plants or fossil fuel installations as this is not in line with EU-wide decarbonisation and the Western Balkan Green Agenda and fossil fuels are a health, financial and environmental liability.
  • EU-related financial support should not be given to any company that plans to invest in or develop fossil fuel capacity at all, irrespective of the type of project.
  • Avoid investing in projects that are false solutions – locking in pollution and harming the environment – such as wood burning, prolonged coal power use or investing in new fossil gas infrastructure.
  • Support financial mechanisms that increase investments in energy savings and renewables, and promote healthy energy, zero-pollution, climate and air quality ambition.

Vlatka Matkovic, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL); Anne Stauer (HEAL); Elke Zander, (HEAL); Lauri Myllyvirta, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA); Rosa Gierens, (CREA)

Partners: Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)

Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia