India’s coal fleet expansion by 64 GW would increase the number of annual premature deaths from coal-related air pollution by 60% - that is 52,700 premature deaths over the next decade, according to a research report by C40 Cities and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
The most impact of this will be felt by residents in and around Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai.
The C40 Cities, a network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities to confront the climate crisis, and CREA released the report amid the red alert given by the latest IPCC report on climate change and India’s fast accelerating growth towards coal intensive expansions.
India is the second largest coal user in the world. 55% of India’s coal-based electricity is generated within 500 km of the five megacities mentioned above. 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 the young, the elderly and pregnant women.
The report examined India’s existing coal power plants and plans to expand India’s coal fleet in the years ahead. According to the study, under current plans, major Indian cities would face 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.
“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% between 2020 and 2030 not reduce it by 20%, which global 1.5oC-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%.” said Dr Rachel Huxley, Head of knowledge and research at C40.
Cities know that coal-fired power plants are major polluters but, for the first time, this research quantifies the impact of this pollution on the health of urban populations and its economic consequences. It also analyses the employment and cost impacts of coal compared to clean energy.
The report states that Delhi citizens’ health is also one of the most impacted by coal pollution compared to all other C40 cities. About 12% of India’s coal-generated electricity is generated within 500 km of the national capital.
“Air pollution (PM2.5 annual concentration) in Delhi is more than nine times above the WHO guidelines, and more than twice the national guideline.
The report is based on two future scenarios. The first, a “1.5°C scenario”, is based on GHG emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement. The second, a “current coal plans” scenario, includes coal-fired power plants currently operating, and takes into account new plants in the pipeline and scheduled retirements up to 2050 – in other words it represents the current path we are on and the future we can expect unless action is taken.
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. The C40 research shows that retiring 20% of existing coal plants (approximately 46.5 GW of old coal) and stopping the construction of new ones near Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai would have significant benefits between 2020-2030.
Investing in clean energy instead of coal would benefit workers and businesses. New coal projects being proposed will result in 25.8 million days of sick-leave in major Indian cities by 2030.
A transition to renewable electricity would also generate 880,000 energy jobs in India between 2020 and 2030 and provide cheaper electricity.
Shruti Narayan , Regional Director C40, South and West Asia, 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.”
However, the report flags that the transition towards cleaner energy must be just and equitable across India’s green energy commitments. A key paradox and concern remains that poorer communities would bear the brunt of India’s policy goals whilst being kept out of democratic processes, which have further led to the intensification of land conflict and resistance movements against cleaner energy solutions.
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