300,000+ public health professionals call on G7 to speed clean energy shift

Intro

More than 300,000 doctors, nurses, public health professionals and health advocates from 30 countries are calling on the world’s seven largest economies to accelerate the transition away from coal to save lives ahead of this month’s high level G7 meeting in Japan. With this summit being one of the first major international gatherings since leaders committed to meaningful climate-action in Paris, the 82 organisations signing the Global Health Statement have outlined the pressing need and huge benefits to both human health and economies of a coal phase out. This is particularly pertinent for host country Japan, which has plans for 47 new coal-fired power plants at home, and is pushing to export its marginally less polluting “high efficiency” coal technology. Japan is one of the only G7 nations still seriously backing coal, and its plan is expected to result in an extra 10,000 premature deaths according to a new Greenpeace and Kiko Network study.

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Key Points

  • Coal is bad for health and bad for the planet. The World Health Organisation has called climate change the greatest threat to global health of the 21st century. Coal impacts health both directly through respiratory and cardiovascular disease in local populations, and indirectly as one of the largest single contributors to climate change. The global response to health emergencies and climate change the G7 plans to discuss will only be increasingly complicated by coal and the increasingly onerous health emergencies it creates via extreme flooding, fires, famine, and infectious diseases.
  • G7 countries must lead on an accelerated coal phase out. To prevent the worst health effects of climate change, all G7 countries need to speed their efforts to phase out coal.  Japan, host of this month’s G7 meeting, has put public health emergencies high on the agenda, but with 47 new coal plants on the drawing board it is undermining its efforts to improve public health. Accelerating the transition away from coal will also create huge economic gains from avoided health impacts. Ontario’s coal phase-out for example, will deliver health savings valued at approximately US$3 billion per year.
  • ‘Efficient coal’ is like ‘healthy cigarettes’. Japan wants to build dozens of new coal plants at home, and sell its marginally less polluting coal technology abroad. This will have disastrous implications for health as it means much more coal burned in the long term. The plants Japan p aims to build at home will cause at least 10,000 premature deaths, and will emit as much toxic air pollution as 21 million passenger cars. Greenpeace notes Japan is already the worst performer among the G7 when it comes to phasing out coal, and if we are to improve health outcomes and have any chance of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, the only choice with coal is a rapid phase out.

Background

When the G7 got together last year, they committed to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable people against the impacts of climate change. One year and a Paris Agreement later, countries are convening once again, this time in Japan, where public health emergencies will be a key priority for discussion.

Meanwhile, host nation Japan continues expanding coal use, undercutting commitments made during this process and endangering lives.

Protecting people’s health is intrinsically linked to protecting the climate, as air pollution from burning coal has dire direct and indirect impacts on human health.

Coal-fired power plants emit large volumes of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter – air pollutants that have been directly linked with acute and chronic heart and lung diseases and ailments. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that globally, outdoor air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths per year from heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute lower respiratory infections among children. Coal plants are responsible for a significant share of these deaths.

Simultaneously, rising greenhouse gas emissions contribute to rising temperatures, which drive more frequent and more intense heat waves, floods, infectious disease spread, and hunger and malnutrition from crop failure. This is particularly true for the elderly who are vulnerable to heat and for children who are living in developing countries. The WHO estimates that climate change will produce at least an additional 250,000 deaths each year by 2030 unless dramatic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions.

Most G7 nations get that phasing out coal plants in favour of clean, renewable sources of electricity is the fastest way to simultaneously slow climate change and improve the health of millions globally, but like its foot dragging on climate action, Japan is also lagging on the coal phaseout. It wants to build dozens of new coal plants at home, and sell its marginally less polluting coal technology abroad. This will have disastrous implications for health as it means much more coal burned in the long term. The plants it plans to build at home alone will cause at least 10,000 premature deaths, and will emit as much toxic air pollution as 21 million passenger cars.

Economic reasons are usually given for continued coal use, but this no longer makes sense either as phase outs are proving to be hugely economic.

A number of jurisdictions in G7 countries are making changes to their energy programs that are both safe for people’s health while helping the economy grow. In Ontario, Canada, 7,560 megawatts of coal electricity was completely phased-out in 2014, delivering savings worth approximately US$3 billion per year from avoided health impacts.

The United Kingdom announced in November 2015 that it would phase out coal power by 2025, while Scotland has already closed its last coal-fired plant. In the US, New York state announced in January 2016 that it would phase out coal power by 2020, and the state of Oregon passed legislation in March 2016 to phase out coal power by 2040.

This is just scratching the surface of what is possible globally. The world is already investing more money in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, and in many places wind and solar power is now competitive with coal on cost. When direct health impacts from air pollution and indirect ones from climate change are factored in, there is no competition.

In Paris last December, G7 countries stood shoulder to shoulder with many others to mark the end of the fossil fuel era, and to decarbonize the global economy. As G7 host Japan has put public health emergencies high on the discussion agenda, and there are no greater threats to public health right than the ones created by coal.

The G7 must move as one, and lead the way away from coal to a clean, sustainable energy future.

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Key Quotes

  • “Efforts to reduce the estimated 3.7 million deaths per year from outdoor air pollution will be substantially impacted by eliminating coal as a source of energy. Coal not only produces carbon, micro-pollutants and many other substances toxic to humans, but it is grossly inefficient when compared to renewable energy sources. It would also harness synergies across the health and energy sectors, achieving better policy outcomes and, most importantly, better human and planetary health.” – Dr James Orbinski, Professor and Research Chair in Global Health at the BSIA School of International Affairs, Laurier University Canada.
  • “The WHO estimates that climate change will claim the lives of at least an extra 250,000 people each year after 2030. We are already seeing increased wildfires and air pollution, changes in infectious disease patterns and allergy seasons, and climate-related droughts and famine contributing to conflict and refugee flows, as in Syria.” – Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency room physician in Canada’s subarctic and Board Member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE)
  • “As health professionals, we work to prevent chronic diseases, injuries and illnesses, and promote the health and well-being of all citizens. National energy choices can help or hinder this work, and one of the most pressing and powerful ways to help is to transition away from coal-fired electricity. We urge G7 leaders to commit to an energy pathway that protects people and the planet.” – Dr. Nick Watts, Coordinator of the Global Climate and Health Alliance
  • “Support for coal by the G7 countries undermines our current and future health by accelerating climate change and increasing air pollution. It’s time to end our reliance on coal. We have clean, healthy alternatives: Renewable energy saves lives. Let’s make that our energy priority.” – Catherine Thomasson, MD, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • “Coal exporters like Australia, the world’s largest, will keep on selling their toxic product until huge customers like Japan close their wallets. Millions of people and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef are dying in front of our eyes as a direct result of global warming, and burning coal is driving the warming. Government action is required now to stop all coal mine development and rapidly phase out dependence on coal.” – Dr Peter Sainsbury, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, Sydney University
  • “A new government report forecasts that Maryland residents will be at significantly increased risk for asthma hospitalization and moderate increased risk for heart attacks by 2040, due to extreme heat events. Maryland is doing its part by committing to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030. But with 3000 miles of coastline, we stand to lose land mass and experience increased flooding. We need accelerated global action on climate to protect our health and quality of life.” – Rebecca Ruggles, Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network
  • “If nations don’t break free of the world-devouring habit of burning massive quantities of coal, the carbon dioxide pollution will bring droughts, megastorms, ocean acidification and dead zones and unprecedented waves of climate refugees. We call for bold and principled leadership by every developed and fossil-fuel dependent nation.” – Bruce Amundson, MD, President of the Washington chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • “Six large coal-fired power plants are planned within 100km of Tokyo. This massive expansion of coal power generation so close to huge urban areas like Tokyo is simply insane. We could save thousands of lives cut short from air pollution if the government chose to embrace renewable energy over dirty coal. Japan is already considered the worst performer among the G7 when it comes to phasing out coal. If we are to have any chance of limiting average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, fossil fuels must be kept in the ground – not pumped into the air over our cities.” – Lauri Myllyvirta, Senior Global Campaigner, Coal, Greenpeace.
  • “The health of millions of people depends on G7 nations leading the world in a just transition away from the mining, burning, and financing of coal. The range and severity of health impacts due to coal and the resulting climate disruption are now widely recognized by the health community worldwide. In light of G7 Ise-Shima Summit priorities including health, climate, and sustainable development, an energy roadmap that emphasizes coal is counterproductive and shortsighted. Given the health benefits and health cost savings that can be achieved by prioritizing renewable energy and energy efficiency, G7 nations have an attractive opportunity to demonstrate leadership by committing to a rapid phase-out of coal in favor of healthy energy options.” – Jennifer Wang, Coordinator of the Healthy Energy Initiative, Health Care Without Harm

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  • The @WHO estimates #climatechange will claim at least an extra 250k lives each year from 2030. Time to end #coal @G7 http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • Outdoor air pollution causes 3.7M premature deaths a year & #coal is largely responsible. #G7 must lead on solutions
  • #Coal costs us both the climate & human health. Time for the @G7 to lead on a fast phase out http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • Good news for #health: #G7 member Canada’s Ontario phased out #coal power totally in 2014. More of this @G7! http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • Canada’s Alberta to phase out 6,200 MW of #coal by 2030. Speed the shift & save lives @G7 http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • Oregon, USA will phase out #coal power by 2040. Speed the global shift & save lives @G7 #G7 http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • Good news for #health: NY state will phase out #coal power by 2020. More of this @G7! http://bit.ly/1Tj0avs
  • #Coal plants are being taken offline now in the UK, & will be all gone by 2025. Good news for the #climate & #health
  • France, Germany, the UK & US have virtually ended financing for overseas #coal-fired plants. Please join them #Japan