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Western Balkans coal plants emit 2.5 times more SO2 than entire EU

Western Balkans coal plants 2.5 times SO2 EU

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September 7, 2021

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Published:

September 7, 2021

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Almost 12,000 people died from 2018 to 2020 because of breaches of legally binding pollution limits in coal-fired thermal power plants in the Western Balkans. Last year the facilities emitted 2.5 times more sulfur dioxide than all coal plants in the EU combined, and SO2 emissions in the same category in Serbia alone were bigger than in the entire EU.

As a result of air pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans, 19,000 people died over the past three years, according to CEE Bankwatch Network and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). Their report, Comply or Close, was published today to mark the International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.

Thermal power plants in the region that use coal are obligated to be run in line with the European Union’s Large Combustion Plants Directive since 2018, which means they have legal ceilings for emissions of polluting matter into the air and have to reduce them.

Of the estimated deaths from 2018 to 2020, almost 12,000 were attributed to breaches of the limits. There were 3,700 preventable deaths in the region, seven thousand took place in the EU, and almost a thousand people died elsewhere. The Western Balkans accounted for 6,500 of all deaths.

Group of four countries emitted at least six times more SO2 than allowed

Romania, Hungary and Greece were the most affected neighboring countries, the findings showed. The EU imported 25 TWh of electricity from the Western Balkans in the last three years, which makes it responsible for the coal plant emissions and the related health costs and death toll, the authors said.

The EU shares the responsibility for coal plant emissions in the Western Balkans because it imports their electricity

In total, the facilities in the region emitted 2.5 times more SO2 last year than all 221 coal plants in the EU combined, the researchers found. Moreover, they said, SO2 emissions in Serbia alone were bigger than in the EU.

Coal-fired power plants in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo* have together emitted at least six times more SO2 than the legal limit in the three-year period, the data revealed.

Ugljevik power plant was worst polluter of 2020

Montenegro doesn’t have a national emission reduction plan because it has only one coal plant, Pljevlja, so it is counted separately from the group. But it also became non-compliant with the directive as last year it used up the 20,000 hours that the opt-out regime allowed it to operate. Albania, the only remaining country in the Western Balkans, has no large coal plants.

The Ugljevik power plant in BiH was the region’s worst polluter in 2020, single-handedly breaching the combined SO2 ceiling for all four countries. The unit, just like Serbia’s Kostolac B, has a desulphurization system fitted, but it is not in operation. Kakanj 7 in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the worst offender in topping an individual ceiling for SO2 last year, as it emittied almost 15 times as much as allowed.

The plants in the said four countries emitted 1.6 times as much dust as allowed in all three years between 2018 and 2020. Only nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions were still below the sum of the countries’ ceilings for last year – 0.9 times as much as allowed. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* breached their national limits, and regionally, nitrogen oxides emissions have slightly increased.

Public funds are for energy transition, not for pollution control

“This report lays bare the human toll from the continued breaches of coal-based electricity in the Western Balkans. Governments of the region must immediately begin a rapid and just transition to sustainable energy systems, with EU support,” said Pippa Gallop, Southeast Europe Energy Advisor at CEE Bankwatch Network.

However, to ensure that the polluter pays, public funds must no longer be used for pollution control investments at coal plants or for any other fossil fuel investments, the two organizations stressed.

Coal power plant emissions resulted in health costs between EUR 25.3 billion and 51.8 billion over the three years through 2020

Investments in energy efficiency measures and renewable energy must be urgently stepped up, and plans for a just transition for coal workers and communities need to be drawn up together with all relevant stakeholders, especially the affected communities, said Davor Pehchevski, Balkan Air Pollution Campaign Coordinator at CEE Bankwatch Network.

Coal power plant emissions resulted in health costs between EUR 25.3 billion and 51.8 billion over the three years, on national and individual levels combined. Just the exceedances of the legal limits in 2020 cost EUR 6 billion to 12.1 billion, of which EUR 1.3 to 2.6 billion relates to the Western Balkans, the report reads.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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