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China’s premier unveils smog-busting plan to ‘make skies blue again’

Li Keqiang promises to intensify battle against air pollution as he unveils series of measures at annual people’s congress

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has promised to step up his country’s battle against deadly smog, telling an annual political congress: “We will make our skies blue again.”

China’s cities have become synonymous with choking air pollution in recent years, which is blamed for up to 1 million premature deaths a year.

Speaking at the opening of the national people’s congress in Beijing on Sunday, Li admitted his country was facing a grave environmental crisis that had left Chinese citizens desperately hoping for relief.

Li unveiled a series of smog-busting measures including cutting coal use, upgrading coal-fired power plants, slashing vehicle emissions, encouraging the use of clean-energy cars and punishing government officials who ignore environmental crimes or air pollution. “Key sources” of industrial pollutants would be placed under 24-hour online monitoring in an effort to cut emissions.

The premier vowed that levels of PM2.5 would fall “markedly” over the coming year but did not cite a specific target.

“Tackling smog is down to every last one of us, and success depends on action and commitment. As long as the whole of our society keeps trying we will have more and more blue skies with each passing year,” he said.

PM2.5 is a tiny airborne particulate that has been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Despite his buoyant message, Li’s language was more cautious than three years ago when he used the same opening speech to “resolutely declare war on pollution” and warn that smog was “nature’s red light warning against inefficient and blind development”.

There has been public frustration – and protest – against Beijing’s failure to achieve results in its quest to clean up the environment. Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north last December as a result of the country’s latest pollution “red alert”.

Wei Song, a Chinese opera singer who attended Li’s speech, said it was inhuman to “achieve development goals by sacrificing the environment” and called for tougher measures against polluters.

“The government should increase the penalties in order to bankrupt the people and the companies responsible. Otherwise, if the punishment is just a little scratch, they will carry on polluting,” said Wei, one of China’s “three tenors”.

Zhang Bawu, a senior Communist party official from Ningxia province, defended China’s “much improved” record on the environment.

He claimed the number of smoggy days in Beijing was now falling thanks to government efforts and he said his province, which is building what could become the biggest solar farm on Earth, was also doing its bit.

Ningxia’s frontline role in a Chinese wind and solar revolution meant 40% of its energy now came from renewable sources, Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

End derogations for polluting coal plants

Effective regulation of air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants could prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/end-derogations-polluting-coal-plants

Establishing and enforcing air pollution standards that are in line with the best available techniques, could reduce the annual number of premature deaths in the EU caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants from 22,900 to 2,600, according to a new study by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report was published in October, ahead of an EU technical committee meeting on the final draft of the large combustion plant (LCP) BREF document. The report called on the Commission and member states to remove derogations and other loopholes from the draft BREF document.

According to the authors of the report, current legislation is failing to deliver its intended health benefits because special exceptions have been granted that allow for emissions that are higher than the agreed minimum requirements of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). Currently more than half of the coal power plants in the EU have been granted permissions to pollute beyond the limits set in the IED, with serious implications for public health and the environment. The pollution from these plants alone was responsible for 13,700 premature deaths in 2013, which represented 60 per cent of all coal-related deaths in the EU, the report said.

Through the revision of the LCP BREF document, the EU and member states now have an opportunity to adopt improved environmental performance standards. By agreeing stricter standards and implementing effective emission limits on coal pollution, real progress can be made in improving the health of people across Europe.

The report also called on the Commission and member states to review the directive’s minimum binding emission limit values, and update them to reflect the levels set in the revised LCP BREF. Emission limits and monitoring requirements should reflect what is now technically possible to ensure that EU legislation serves as a driver towards improved environmental performance across the EU.

“The best available techniques we call for in this report are all tried-and-tested and were already being demonstrated under technically and economically viable conditions decades ago. The EU considers itself a world leader on environmental issues but when it comes to coal combustion, decision makers have their heads stuck in a dark cloud!”, says Christian Schaible, Policy Manager on industrial production at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Medical professionals have expressed support for the report; “Air pollution kills,” says Professor Bert Brunekreef of the European Respiratory Society. “Experts in lung health want to see immediate remedial action. Inaction cannot be justified when it is human health and lives that are at stake.”

As there are no techniques that completely eliminate emissions from the burning of coal and with coal power plants responsible for 18 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the authors of the report conclude that truly lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud will require the complete phase-out of coal power.

“The health of European citizens cannot afford any further delay in enforcing new pollution standards. While the EU’s ultimate goal should be to commit to the complete phase-out of coal and to a transformation pathway to renewable energy and reduced energy consumption, the EU still needs to limit pollution from coal power plants with its deadly and costly impacts on people, health and the environment,” said Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe.

Christer Ågren

The report “Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives” was produced jointly by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, WWF and Sandbag, and can be downloaded from: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9LWbY1olzldSFF6TW1MZjBTUms

EEB press release on the outcome of the 20 October IED forum: http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm/news-events/news/now-the-talking-s-over-it-…

world gdp per region 2002

Coal kills across borders

Every coal-fired power station switched off will bring great benefits that reach beyond national borders, for both human health and the climate.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/coal-kills-across-borders

In 2013, air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power stations in the EU were responsible for over 22,900 premature deaths, tens of thousands of cases of ill-health from heart disease to bronchitis, and up to €62.3 billion in health costs. As air pollution travels far beyond national borders, a full coal phase-out in the EU would bring enormous benefits for all citizens across the continent, according to the report “Europe’s Dark Cloud: How coal-burning countries make their neighbours sick”.

Each coal power plant closed will provide major health benefits, not only for those living nearby, but also for those abroad. For example, the planned UK phase-out of coal by 2025 could save up to 2,870 lives every year, of which more than 1,300 in continental Europe. A German phase-out of coal could avoid more than 1,860 premature deaths domestically and almost 2,500 abroad every year.

The analysis of transboundary impacts shows that the five EU countries whose coal power plants do the most harm abroad are: Poland (causing 4,690 premature deaths abroad), Germany (2,490), Romania (1,660), Bulgaria (1,390) and the UK (1,350). It also shows that the countries most heavily impacted by coal pollution from neighbouring countries, in addition to that from their own plants are: Germany (3,630 premature deaths altogether), Italy (1,610), France (1,380), Greece (1,050) and Hungary (700).

The study used data from 257 (of the total of 280) coal power stations that report SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM) emissions to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (EPRTR) and for which 2013 data was available. It is noticeable that the 30 most polluting coal power plants – the “Toxic 30” – alone were responsible for more than half of the premature deaths and health costs (see figure).

“The report underlines the high costs to health that come with our reliance on coal power generation. It also debunks the myth that coal is a cheap energy source. Clearly, no country on its own can solve the problem of air pollution from energy production,” said Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Looking at greenhouse gases, the 280 coal plants released 755 million tonnes of CO2, which represents around 18 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. Almost half of these CO2 emissions (367 million tonnes in 2014) came from the 30 highest-emitting plants – the “Dirty 30”. Three countries are home to 19 of the “Dirty 30” plants, namely Germany (eight), Poland (six) and the UK (five).

The report recommends that a full coal phase-out should be one of the EU’s stated goals and that speeding up the process of transitioning out coal will require stiffening of specific EU policies, including a rapid and ambitious structural reform of the EU Emissions Trading System in order to put a meaningful price on carbon emissions. This should be accompanied by the introduction of an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for CO₂ from power plants to provide a clear investment signal for the decarbonisation of the power sector.

In addition, the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and National Emissions Ceilings Directive (NECD) must introduce stricter pollution limits for the emissions they cover, and EU funding instruments need to be reformed so that they aid the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels and support regions and communities with mining region transformation.

“The report shows that every coal-fired power station switched off will bring great benefits reaching beyond national borders, for both human health as well as climate” – Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network Europe concluded. “After the Paris Climate Agreement, EU leaders have even more responsibility to dramatically ramp up efforts to shut down all coal power plants and swiftly move to 100 per cent renewable energy”.

Christer Ågren

Figure. The “Toxic 30” – the EU coal power plants that do the greatest health damage.

Figure. The “Toxic 30” – the EU coal power plants that do the greatest health damage.

Huge health impacts from Balkan coal plants

New study quantifies the public health costs of polluted air from existing coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans at up to €8.5 billion per year.

New estimates of the huge health costs associated with air pollution from coal power plants in the Western Balkan region were published in March by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). The report provides an estimate of the total health damage from air pollution released from coal power plants in five countries: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo.

Currently home to 15 existing coal plants with an installed capacity of 8.1 gigawatt (GW), the region could see the installation of 24 new projects with 7.8 GW capacity. The estimated health costs of future coal plants are also shown in the report.

For its energy production, the region is heavily dependent on coal and lignite (the most polluting form of coal), and seven of the ten most polluting coal-fired power stations in Europe are located here (see table).

Table : The ten European coal power plants with the biggest emissions of sulphur dioxide (tonnes).

Table : The ten European coal power plants with the biggest emissions of sulphur dioxide (tonnes).

Air pollution is at levels that are up to two and a half times above national air quality safety limits and well beyond what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. According to the WHO, the estimated economic cost of early deaths from air pollution in Serbia amounts to 33.5 per cent of its GDP; in Bosnia and Herzegovina 21.5 per cent, in Macedonia 19.9 per cent and in Montenegro 14.5 per cent. By comparison, the figures for Germany and the UK are respectively 4.5
and 3.7 per cent.

The study puts the costs to health of emissions from existing coal plants in the five Western Balkan countries at up to €8.5 billion per year. This estimate covers costs directly related to air pollution from coal-fired electricity plants, including from premature deaths, respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, new cases of chronic bronchitis and lower respiratory problems, medication use and days of restricted activity due to ill-health, including lost working days.

A large proportion – more than half – of the health costs caused by air pollution from coal-fired power plants in the five Western Balkan countries is borne by the population in surrounding countries due to the transboundary effects of air pollutants being carried by the wind. According to HEAL, this shows that the EU’s current efforts to improve air quality in its member countries should not stop at its borders.

EU policy-makers should also put their weight behind demands for strong air quality and pollution control measures in its Western Balkan neighbours.

“Our new report quantifies the huge health costs associated with coal power generation in the Western Balkans, and uncovers the myth that coal is the cheapest form of energy,” says Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director of HEAL.

She continues: “Opting out of coal offers the prospect of a healthier and more prosperous future. The EU should encourage the change to a healthy energy future by significantly increasing financial support for renewables and energy savings – for example, under the pre-accession programme. It would improve air quality and help tackle climate change in both the Western Balkans and in the rest of Europe.”.

Christer Ågren

Source: HEAL press release 15 March 2016.

The report “The Unpaid Health Bill – How coal power plants in the Western Balkans make us sick” can be downloaded at:
http://env-health.org/IMG/pdf/14032016_technical_report_balkans_coal_en_final.pdf

Coal costs Turkey €3.6 billion a year

AcidNews June 2015

A new study shows that the public heath costs of polluted air from existing coal-fired power plants in Turkey are up to €3.6 billion per year. A cost that will increase significantly over the next four years, if existing plans to double coal power capacity with another 80 plants are implemented.

Coal power generation makes a considerable contribution to the country’s already huge air pollution problem. More than 97% of the urban population in Turkey is exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate matter, which is the most harmful pollutant for health.

Medical experts in Turkey advocate a change in energy policies to reverse investment into coal. Dr. Bayazıt İlhan, President of the Central Council of Turkish Medical Association, says: “A large coal-fired power plant emits several thousand tons of hazardous air pollutants every year and has an average lifetime of at least 40 years. The plans for a massive increase in investment would mean that coal’s contribution to respiratory and cardiovascular disease would continue for decades. This unhealthy future has to be avoided. We would like to see the Turkish government detaching itself from this polluted and outmoded source of energy.”

Source: HEAL press release, 20 May 2015.

The entire report “The unpaid health bill, How coal power plants in Turkey make us sick” is available at www.env-health.org/unpaidhealthbill.