ERS supports new report, ‘Lifting Europe’s dark cloud: How cutting coal saves lives’

A new report released today calls for better regulatory measures to reduce pollution from coal burning plants and save thousands of lives across Europe.

‘Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives’ was published today (11 October) by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, WWF and Sandbag.

The report has two clear policy messages:

Use the best available technology
If existing plants improved their environmental performance by setting and enforcing pollution limits in line with the best industry-recognised, tried-and-tested techniques, the annual number of premature deaths caused by burning coal could be reduced from 22,900 to 2,600 deaths.

End derogations
In addition to this technology gap, the current legislation is failing to deliver its intended health benefits due to the special exceptions that allow for emissions to go beyond the agreed ‘safety net’ levels. At the time of publication, more than half of the coal power plants in Europe have ‘permission to pollute’ beyond the limits set in the Industrial Emissions Directive.

In his preface to the report, Professor Bert Brunekreef, Chair of the ERS Environment and Health Committee outlined that “improving the EU’s poor air quality will require stricter regulation and significant investment. The long term health benefits easily outweigh the necessary financial investments.

"As a medical society, we notice time and again the disconnect between an acknowledgement of the dangers of air pollution and the willingness of policymakers to take concrete steps to reduce emissions and clean up our air. Introducing and fully enforcing 'Best Available Techniques' standards through the EU’s 'Industrial Emissions Directive' offers a clear means of protecting our health and reducing the level of harmful pollutants and gases in the atmosphere. Applying these standards will also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.”

Before the end of 2016, the EU and Member States will have the opportunity to adopt improved environmental performance standards for coal plants. By agreeing these standards and implementing effective limits on coal pollution, real progress can be made in improving the health of people across Europe.

The ERS Environment and Health Committee calls on policy makers to put health considerations to the fore of their discussions, and will continue to provide expertise and input to the debate.

Read the report