PRO­TECT­ING OUR HEALTH: THERE IS LIFE AF­TER COAL

Pretoria News - - OPINION - 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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