In a country where 28 million people live below the poverty line, development is on everyone’s lips in Indonesia. And rightly so. Everyone wants a life with dignity and opportunity, as well as simple things such as running water and electricity. But when does so-called development come at the cost of real progress for all Indonesians?

A shepherdess watches over her flock of sheep that graze near a coal power plant in Jepara, Central Java. Coal burning causes a trail of destruction that is no less harmful than coal mining.

Right now, there are plans to build more than a hundred new coal-fired power plants in Indonesia, which could triple the air pollution emissions from burning coal. But up until now, there had never been a study into what the impacts are on people’s health.

So we collaborated with researchers from Harvard University to investigate, and used some of the latest atmospheric modelling technology. This is what we found.

  • Existing coal plants in Indonesia already cause an estimated 7,100 premature deaths every year.
  • If all proposed new power plants are built, they could cause the death of a further 21,200 people, due to the increased risk of stroke, lung cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory diseases, as well as deaths of young children due to increased risk of acute respiratory infections.
  • Over an operating life of 30 years the death toll from new coal plants could rise to 600,000 or more people.

Check out the full report here. Every new coal-fired power plant means thousands of air-pollution related deaths over its lifetime. Breathing should not be life threatening.

Children play by the beach near a coal power plant in Jepara, Central Java, oblivious to the possible threats to their health. The coal mining furore poses serious hazards to human health, the environment and the social integrity of communities around mining areas.

But there’s another way.  Here’s why Indonesia could bypass the age of dirty coal now:

  1. In large economies, such as China, the US, and the EU, new power generation is already coming predominantly from renewables.

  2. 2014 was the first year that renewable energy grew more than fossil fuels globally.

  3. In the US 200 coal-fired power plants have been scheduled for retirement.

  4. Europe’s coal use peaked 30 years ago and has fallen almost 50% since then.

  5. China is developing some of the world’s biggest solar and wind projects, and has been reducing coal use for the past 18 months.

That’s what we call progress.

Community from Batang together with Greenpeace in a creative protest in front of Indonesian presidential palace in Jakarta, to show their opposition to the proposed coal-fired power plant in Batang, Central Java.

Indonesia’s government is at a crucial point. Will it listen to the thousands that have protested against coal mines? Will they transition quickly to renewable energy? Today we demand the government offer us progress and set us on a path where our energy needs don’t harm our health.

You too can ask your leaders to act for climate and commit to clean, safe renewables. Take action.

Hindun Mulaika is a Climate & Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.