We can, must and should end the age of coal

by Kumi Naidoo

June 12, 2013

Coal threatens everything we love and treasure and we now have new research to establish this in our report “Silent Killers”. We must stand together and bring an end to the age of coal. Our renewed fight will kick off on the29th of June with an international day of action.

Silent Killers, based on research conducted by the University of Stuttgart, reveals how coal power plants in Europe cause serious health problems and even leads to premature deaths. In Europe 300 power plants burn coal to produce electricity, spewing out millions of tonnes of pollution, every year. Hour after hour these plants fill the air with toxic pollutants, including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and tiny sulphate and nitrate particles that can go deep into people’s lungs.

Pollution from coal is a silent killer. The air breathed in Europe harms everyone babies, children and adults, especially the elderly. An estimated 22,000 people died prematurely in Europe in 2010 because of toxic emissions from coal plants, the report reveals.

We need to stand up and demand that governments and energy producers respect the fundamental right to breathe clean air and not see it as a threat to their profits.

In stark contrast to these alarming numbers European politicians are not taking action to end the coal age: 50 new power plants are in the works, most of them in the planning stage. These new plants will give the coal industry will continue to have a license to kill for decades.

Polish Patnow coal power station. Greenpeace/Nick Cobbing

Polish Patnow coal power station. In Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, more people die because of air pollution from coal-fired power plants than in road traffic accidents.

Coal-fired power plants are also the largest source of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that have already changed our climate. Continued coal burning will fuel even more catastrophic climate change. The hundreds of thousands who die now from climate change will grow to millions within decades.

Greenpeace, working with other civil society organisations, has helped stop dozens of coal-fired power plant projects from taking off in Europe. But, more needs to be done.

European politicians must take action. The solution is right in front of them: renewable energy. Through ourEnergy [R]evolutionscenario Greenpeace has a sophisticated proposal to transition Europe from coal to an energy system based on clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. A clean energy system would be good for the climate and for public health. It would also create sustainable, clean power, thousands of new jobs, and economic opportunities.

By driving the development of clean energy, Europe could end the energy poverty — a lack of basic access to reliable energy services such as lighting, heating and cooking — of approximately two billion people.

As world leaders fail to take necessary actions to stop coal, more and more people from China to the US, Thailand to Turkey, are taking on the struggles themselves.

Across the world environmental activists, students, doctors, church leaders and many more are standing up and telling the captains of industry and government leaders that the age of coal must end now. They are demanding that no new coal plants be built, that no new mines are dug. Instead they want a new world built with renewable energy. A world free from catastrophic climate change and the daily deadly toxins discharged from coal fired power station chimneys around the world.

Please join me in the international day of “End the Age of Coal” on the 29th of June!

Kumi Naidoo

By Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo has served as executive director of Greenpeace International since November 2009.

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