Air pollution from European coal power stations causes 22,300 premature deaths a year, according to a new study from Stuttgart University.
Commissioned by Greenpeace International, the report found another 2,700 people are expected to die prematurely each year if a new generation of 50 coal plants planned across the continent goes ahead.
It calls on the European Union to halt the development of these plants and to set a binding renewable target for 2030.
The analysis found that pollution from coal plants is now linked to more deaths than road traffic accidents across Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. In Germany and the UK the levels of deaths from coal power and road accidents are nearly level.
The health impacts of burning coal are also costing governments and companies from across Europe billions of pounds a year in disease treatment and loss of productivity.
Almost five million working days were lost in 2010 because of illnesses linked to pollution for coal plants, such as asthma and heart attacks.
Greenpeace International energy campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta said:
The results are staggering. The only way to eliminate the health impacts associated with burning coal in Europe is to phase out these dirty power plants and replace them with clean renewable energy.
The current EU renewable energy target has been proven to boost renewable energy and help modernise energy systems and the economy. Europe must continue down the path of clean renewable energy by setting an ambitious, binding 2030 renewable energy target.
Despite previous warnings from medical experts, who priced the total health costs of coal power at €43 billion each year, the EU is moving forward with a new generation of dirty coal and lignite power plants.
To highlight the problem facing Europe, Greenpeace mapped all of these planned coal and lignite plants, as well as every plant currently in operation across the continent – along with its health impacts.
While Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria and the UK were found to have the dirtiest coal plants, the report emphasises the cross-border threats of power stations, as fine particles, soot and dust travel between member states.
Earlier this month, local communities and green groups in Poland voiced their concerns about their government’s plans to increase its share of coal power, calling for a moratorium on coal and lignite expansion.
This coincided with a warning from experts that coal pollution could be responsible for 3,600 premature deaths in Poland alone.
Greenpeace is calling for the EU to halt new coal production and to adopt a strong target that would see renewable energy sources generate 45% of the bloc’s energy needs by 2030.
They say such a target would help create “sustainable clean power, thousands of new jobs and economic opportunities”.
They are also calling for the EU to adopt a strong emissions reduction target of 55% by 2030.
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