Pollution from coal-fired power plants throughout the Balkans region are estimated to have caused thousands of deaths due to breaches of legal limits on harmful emissions. More than half of these preventable deaths are thought to have occurred within the EU.
A damning new report by CEE Bankwatch Network and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air argues that close to 12,000 people have died over the past three years due to “breaches of legally binding pollution limits” in Western Balkan coal-fired power plants.
The report, Comply or Close, was launched to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Clean Air for blue skies on 7 September.
Air pollution produced by coal plants in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo impacts not only the citizens of these countries, but also those in neighbouring EU countries like Romania, Greece and Hungary.
“This report lays bare the human toll from the continued breaches of coal-based electricity in the Western Balkans,” said Pippa Gallop, Southeast Europe Energy Advisor at CEE Bankwatch Network, “Governments of the region must immediately begin a rapid and just transition to sustainable energy systems, with EU support.”
The EU Large Combustion Plants Directive aims to reduce emissions of dangerous substances, and has been adapted for countries that are party to the Energy Community Treaty. The Directive legally requires member countries to rein in air pollution from power plants after 2018.
The report finds, however, that the Western Balkans’ 18 coal plants were responsible for two and a half times as much sulphur dioxide (SO2) as all 221 coal power stations in the whole of the EU. Since EU air-pollution limits became obligatory to non-EU Balkan countries in 2018, the Western Balkans region emitted SO2 at levels at least six times the legal limit.
The report’s projections used World Health Organization recommendations to model the health impact of pollution, while exposure was estimated using high-resolution population data from NASA and various censuses.
“These 18 coal plants in the Western Balkans are still wreaking havoc in the region and beyond,” continued Gallop, “Western Balkan governments bear primary responsibility for this state of affairs, but we also do want to see the EU stepping up action on this issue.”
Europe is currently facing record high gas and electricity prices, somewhat dampening the incentive to eliminate additional sources of electricity. The EU currently imports 8% of the electricity produced by Western Balkans coal plants.
Photo by Vitaly Vlasov from Pexels
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