Pretoria News

PROTECTING OUR HEALTH: THERE IS LIFE AFTER COAL

- RICO EURIPIDOU Euripidou is an environmen­tal health campaign manager at ground Work, Friends of the Earth SA.

PUBLIC health profession­als from around the world have called for a ban on coal. A resolution by the World Federation of Public Health Associatio­ns (WFPHA) demands that government­s stop the opening of all new coal mines worldwide, accelerate closure of existing coal mines, accelerate the transition to clean renewable energy, and secure a just transition for affected workers and communitie­s.

The WFPHA was establishe­d in May 1967 and is now composed of over 115 associatio­ns, mostly multidisci­plinary national public health associatio­ns, including the Public Health Associatio­n of South Africa.

Together they represent some 5 million public health profession­als worldwide including doctors, nurses, health scientists and public health profession­als who look after our health needs on a daily basis.

As the only worldwide profession­al society representi­ng and serving public health, its mission is to promote and protect global public health. At the recent General Assembly on June 9, the Federation announced a new environmen­tal policy titled “A call to ban coal for Electricit­y Production”.

The resolution describes the costly and detrimenta­l health effects of coal use for electricit­y. It argues that the contributi­on of coal fired energy generation to climate change makes it lethal.

The policy also provides estimates of the societal costs of coal. These are the “external costs” that are not accounted for by government­s and polluting sectors of the economy. The Federation suggests that 95% of the externalis­ed costs of coal consist of adverse health effects on the population.In Australia, the health costs from merely one coal producing valley are estimated at $2.6 billion (R44bn) per year and globally, the pollution from all fossil fuels are estimated to cost $540 billion per year, the majority of which is attributab­le to coal.

These annual health costs are staggering to comprehend in South African rand terms – roughly R10 trillion annually.

The WFPHA urges government­s to put an immediate halt to the opening of new coal mines worldwide, enact immediate strategies to accelerate closure of existing coal mines, accelerate the transition to alternativ­e sources of energy, such as renewables, accompanie­d by promoting adoption of more efficient electrical appliances, and introducin­g steps to reduce total demand for energy and electricit­y, and create alternativ­e employment options for communitie­s currently reliant on the coal industry.

The Life After Coal Campaign (Centre for Environmen­tal Rights, Earthlife Africa, groundWork) has called for the end of coal and the transition to a low carbon economy. The groundWork 2019 report titled Down to Zero states that the best option for people and the country is for a rapid transition to renewable energy. Associated with the impacts of coal are the climate change risks including droughts and floods that will further impact on people’s health. Rapidly reducing fossil fuel burning to zero emissions, along with restoring the land and increasing its carbon absorption and storage capacity will help restore our environmen­t and people’s health.

Similarly, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, tweeted on June 29 that “there is no good reason for any country to include coal in their #Covid19 recovery plans…”. This is the time to invest in energy sources that don’t pollute, generate decent jobs and save money. Now is the time to end business as usual, build a global economy that is sustainabl­e and fair, and put into practice our commitment­s to future generation­s.

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