23 September 2019 | 10 minutes.

Reality check on the Energiewende

Michel Petillo
Psychologist and Photographer

Michel Petillo, Psychologist and Photographer

During the UN climate negotiations at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Bonn last November 2017, over 15 countries and several USA states such as California and Washington, plus 58 private companies joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Carbon pollution from coal is considered a leading contributor to climate change. The Alliance’s charter states that to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global temperature increases “well below 2°C” and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, traditional coal power needs to be phased out by no later than 2030, and no later than by 2050 in the rest of the world.

Coal-fired power plants produce almost 40% of global electricity but generate per unit of electricity twice as much CO2 as gas.

Source: AlJazeera, World Coal Association, The New Climate Economy.

In the European Union, almost 1/5 of CO2 emissions come directly from coal power plants, with Germany and Poland responsible for half of it. Despite Germany’s claims to transition away from coal, 77 coal power plants – more than in any other country in Europe – remain operational. The newest units of the lignite-powered facilities are even expected to operate until 2055.

The health effects of air pollution due to coalburning, including respiratory diseases and premature deaths, result in massive costs in human and economic terms. According to Europe’s Dark Cloud report by the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe, WWF’s Europe office and Sandbag, 3,630 Germans died of carbon-related diseases in 2013.

Annually, on a global scale, more than 800,000 people die prematurely from pollution generated by coal-burning.

The 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy in collaboration with Earth Institute of Colombia University finds that air quality is the leading environmental threat to public health. According to Endcoal.org, annually and on a global scale, more than 800,000 people die prematurely from pollution generated by coal-burning. Within the EU, an analysis of 257 of the EU’s 280 coal plants found that their emissions contributed to the deaths of 22,900 people. Tens of thousands more suffer from illnesses, including heart problems and bronchitis, directly related to coal-burning. The corresponding health cost is estimated to exceed €60 billion. With 6.5 million victims annually worldwide the issue of air pollution starts to rank very high on the policy ladder and it will drive the World Health Organization’s first global conference on air pollution and health on 30 October – 1 November 2018 in Geneva.

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