Thursday

26th Jan 2023

Western Balkan coal plants causing thousands of deaths

  • In 2020, the 18 coal stations in the western Balkans emitted two and half times as much polluting sulphur dioxide as all the 221 others in the EU (Photo: AdamCohn)
Listen to article

Air pollution from coal-powered plants in the western Balkans has caused 19,000 deaths over the past three years, a new report from the CEE Bankwatch Network and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air revealed on Tuesday (7 September).

Nearly 12,000 of those deaths (3,700 in the western Balkans themselves, and 7,000 in the EU) are attributed to emissions caps being exceeded by coal plants located in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The most-hit countries have been Italy and Serbia, both registering around 600 deaths linked to emissions excesses, the report finds. They are followed by Hungary (390), Romania (360) and Bosnia & Herzegovina (280).

Meanwhile, other public health impacts include cases of low birth weight, chronic bronchitis, asthma symptoms, and cardiovascular and respiratory hospital admissions.

Overall, health costs associated with west Balkan coal plants breaching pollution rules were estimated at between €6bn and €12.1bn in 2020.

Since the EU is a net importer of electricity from the western Balkans, "[it] plays a significant role in sustaining coal-based electricity in the region," reads the report.

Overall, the imports from the western Balkans make up less than one percent of the EU's total electricity consumption.

However, the emissions of polluting sulphur dioxide (SO2) related to these imports account for as much as half of the SO2 emissions produced from all power plants in the EU in 2020.

Since 2018, EU and western Balkans countries have been obliged to reduce air pollution from power plants - under rules adopted by the Energy Community, an organisation that brings together EU member states and other neighbouring countries in the energy field.

However, some coal-fired power plants in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo have registered SO2 emissions at levels at least six times the legal limit.

Currently, all four countries face dispute settlement cases for breaching emissions ceilings in 2018 and 2019.

While last year was expected to result in a drop in emissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, polluting sulphur dioxide emissions from monitored coal plants in the region increased, compared to previous years.

The report highlights that, in 2020, the 18 coal stations in the western Balkans emitted two and half times as much polluting sulphur dioxide as all 221 in the EU.

With the EU tightening rules to become climate-neutral by 2050, pressure is mounting over the western Balkans to begin a transition to more sustainable energy systems.

"Western Balkan governments cannot dream of EU membership while ignoring pollution control rules," said Ioana Ciuta from CEE Bankwatch Network.

However, Brussels is also expected to play its part as "it bears both the impacts and part of the responsibility for the resulting out-of-control air pollution," said Lauri Myllyvirta from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The report calls on the EU to strengthen rules adopted under the Energy Community, by introducing effective penalties and help countries in the western Balkans to phase out coal by, for example, taxing fossil-fuel-based electricity imports.

Air pollution in many EU cities 'stubbornly high'

Many European citizens are still exposed to illegal and dangerous levels of pollution, especially badly in Italy and Poland, new data from the European Environment Agency revealed.

Analysis

Why is petrostate UAE going all in on green hydrogen?

The United Arab Emirates announced its ambition to become one of the world's premier trading hubs for green hydrogen. Interesting, to say the least, for a country that relies on the sale of fossil fuels for its prosperity.

Latest News

  1. Official: EU parliament's weak internal rule-making body leads to 'culture of impunity'
  2. Red tape border logjam for EU's 1.3m 'frontier workers'
  3. Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency
  4. Greek government in no-confidence vote over spying scandal
  5. The legal battle for justice against Kremlin's 'untouchables'
  6. UAE's fossil-fuelled high-tech mirage of a green future
  7. MEP harassment case sheds light on flimsy support for victims
  8. Big Agri's EU lobbying playbook on 'hunger' and a 'refugee crisis'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  2. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  3. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  4. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  2. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  3. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  5. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  6. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us