Thousands of people in Europe have died from coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans that have exceeded pollution limits, according to a new report.
The report from the EWC Bankwatch Network and the Energy and Clean Air Research Center states that 19,000 people have died in the past three years, due to air pollution caused by factories in Serbia, in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro. .
The report warns that the pollution caused by these plants affects not only the inhabitants of their own country, but also those of countries neighboring the EU, especially Romania, Hungary and Greece.
“This report exposes the human toll of the continuing breaches of coal-based electricity in the Western Balkans. Governments in the region must immediately initiate a swift and fair transition to sustainable energy systems, with the support of the EU, ”said Pippa Gallop, Energy Advisor for South East Europe at CEE Bankwatch Network.
According to the analysis, 3,700 people died in the Western Balkans and 7,000 in the EU due to coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans which exceeded pollution limits between 2018 and 2020.
It is also estimated that nearly a thousand more people have died in other regions due to the suffocating air pollution caused by the same power plants.
The 18 coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans emitted two and a half times more sulfur dioxide (SO2) than the 221 coal-fired power plants in the EU combined in 2020, according to the report.
“Governments in the Western Balkans that have not yet done so must set a date for a phase-out of coal,” said Davor Pehchevski, Balkan Air Pollution Campaign Coordinator at CEE Bankwatch Network.
“For power plants that cannot be shut down immediately, governments must limit their operating hours until emission standards are met, in order to save lives.”
“At the same time, investments in energy efficiency measures and renewable energies need to be urgently scaled up, and plans for a just transition for coal workers and communities need to be developed with all relevant stakeholders, including especially affected communities. ”
According to the report, the electricity produced by these coal-fired plants and traded with the EU in 2020 produced as much SO2 as half of the EU’s coal-fired plants combined.
“As our report shows, when the EU trades electricity with its neighbors in the Western Balkans, it bears both the impacts and part of the responsibility for the resulting uncontrollable air pollution. The EU must also help the countries of the Western Balkans to move beyond coal by taxing imports of electricity from fossil fuels and ensuring the effective application of the Treaty establishing the Energy Community ”, said Lauri Myllyvirta, Chief Analyst at the Energy and Clean Air Research Center.
“Governments in the Western Balkans cannot dream of EU membership while ignoring pollution control rules. To avoid this kind of flagrant non-conformity, the application of the Treaty establishing the Energy Community must be a priority. The European Commission and EU governments must introduce effective sanctions, ”concluded Ioana Ciuta, Energy Coordinator for the Western Balkans at CEE Bankwatch Network.