A new research report released by the C40 Cities -- a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change – have revealed that planned coal expansion will cause a 60 percent rise in premature deaths due to coal air pollution in Indian metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.
As per the C40 report, the current proposed coal expansion by 64 GW around Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Chennai could cause 52,700 premature deaths, 31,300 preterm births, and 5,700 new asthma cases among children, over just a decade.
India is the second-largest coal user in the world, with 55 percent of the country’s coal-generated electricity coming from areas within 500 km of these five megacities. Air pollution generated by coal-fired power plants travels long distances and all of the coal plants within a wider geographical area put urban residents’ health at risk, especially the young, the elderly, and pregnant women.
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While it is widely known that coal-fired power plants are major polluters, C40 has, for the first time, quantified its impact on the health of urban populations and the subsequent economic consequences.
Stating that a transition to renewable electricity would not only generate 8,80,000 energy jobs in India between 2020 and 2030 but also provide cheaper electricity, the C40 Cities report suggested that state and national governments’ air quality plans incorporate an early retirement of coal, starting with the oldest and most polluting units. Additionally, the report suggests that governments invest in clean energy instead of building new coal plants.
It is estimated that the coal expansion would result in a total of 48,900 life-years lived with disabilities. As per the C40 research, retiring 20 percent of India’s existing coal plants, which is 46.5 GW of old coal, approximately, and stopping the construction of new coal power near Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Chennai would have significant benefits between 2020-2030.
The report read: “In India, business leaders estimate that employee productivity decreases by eight to 10 percent on high pollution days. Our research suggests that around 25.8 million sick days could be caused by air pollution exposure from coal power plants in major Indian C40 cities between 2020-2030 if the current proposed expansion of coal capacity takes place. Over the coming decade, the economic health costs associated with coal pollution are estimated at $46.5 billion, more than twice as much as India’s total public health expenditure in 2018.”
Further, cutting down coal usage would help tackle climate change by reducing India’s total annual GHG emissions by 11 percent per year, which would be the equivalent of taking 60 million vehicles off the road for a year.