'Coal expansion to cause premature deaths in metros'

Planned coal expansion will cause 60% jump in premature deaths in Indian metro cities: Study

India is the second largest coal user in the world

Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

People living in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai are experiencing some of the worst health and economic impacts from coal pollution compared to those living in other major cities around the world, according to a study.

A new research released on Wednesday by C40 Cities examined India’s existing coal power plants and plans to expand India’s coal fleet in the years ahead. 

C40 Cities connects 97 of the world’s greatest cities to take climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.

According to the study, major Indian cities under the current plans would witness 52,700 premature deaths, 31,300 preterm births, 46,800 asthma emergency hospital visits and 25.8 million days of sick-leave over the next decade. 

India is the second largest coal user in the world. 

Around 55 per cent of India’s coal-generated electricity is generated within 500 km of these five megacities. 

Air pollution from coal-fired power plants travels long distances and all of the coal plants within a wider geographical area (here defined as 500 km) put urban residents’ health at risk, especially of children, the elderly and pregnant women.

The report suggests that state and national governments' air quality plans should incorporate an early retirement of coal, starting with the oldest and most polluting units, alongside investing in clean energy instead of building new coal plants. C40’s research shows that retiring 20 per cent of existing coal plants (approximately 46.5 GW of old coal) and stopping the construction of new coal plant near Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai would have significant benefits between 2020-2030.

According to a C40 Cities press statement, air pollution impacts urban economies through a reduction in labour productivity and an increase in employee absence, leading to economic losses and increasing health costs. In India, business leaders estimate that employee productivity decreases by 8-10 per cent on high pollution days.

“By continuing to support coal-fired power plants, national and state governments are threatening the health and well-being of all those living in major Indian cities while undermining India’s air quality targets. India’s current national coal policies fall dramatically short given that current plans would expand the coal fleet by 28 per cent between 2020 and 2030, not reduce it by 20 per cent, which global 1.5-degree C-compliant climate targets require. Current coal plans could increase the number of annual premature deaths from coal-related air pollution in major Indian cities by 60 per cent.” Dr Rachel Huxley, Head of knowledge and research at C40 said.

“A transition to clean energy is not only critical for Indian cities to reduce air pollution, improve their residents’ health and deliver their climate targets, aligned to Paris Agreements but also to create jobs.” Shruti Narayan, Regional Director, C40, South and West Asia added.

“Solar and wind energy are already cheaper than new and operating coal power plants in India. Investing in clean energy rather than new coal plants will impact household savings as well as reduce costs for businesses and government operations that are major electricity consumers,” the statement said.

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