Kolkata tops global list of megacities most impacted by coal pollution: replacing old units with renewable energy will save lives, create jobs
C40 Cities warns that pollution from coal plants is threatening the health of residents in and around Kolkata
New research by C40 cities reveal that Kolkata is the city with the highest number of premature deaths due to coal plant pollution in 2019, out of a study of 61 global megacities.
Current plans to expand India’s coal fleet by 64 GW would increase the number of annual premature deaths from coal-related air pollution in Kolkata – that is 31,000 premature deaths over the next decade
Investing in clean energy instead of coal would benefit workers and businesses. New coal projects being proposed will result in 13.3 million days of sick-leave in Kolkata by 2030.
An energy transition that would supply Kolkata with renewable electricity would also generate 150,000 energy jobs in India between 2020 and 2030 and provide cheaper electricity. Jobs would be generated in manufacturing, installation and operations.
Kolkata, 29 September 2021: Kolkata citizens’ are the most impacted by coal pollution compared to residents in all other C40 cities in terms of premature deaths. 20% of India’s coal-generated electricity is generated within 500 km of the city. Air pollution from coal-fired power plants travels long distances with the main winds pushing pollutants towards the city, and the concentration levels put everyone at risk, especially vulnerable citizens such as the young, the elderly and pregnant women.
“Air pollution (PM2.5 annual concentration) in Kolkata is nearly seven times above the WHO guidelines, and nearly twice above the national guideline. Current national plans would expand the coal fleet by 28% between 2020 and 2030 not reduce it by 20%, threatening the health and well-being of the urban residents in Kolkata while undermining India’s climate and air quality targets. Current national plans could increase the number of annual premature deaths from coal plant pollution in Kolkata by 50%.” Dr Rachel Huxley, Head of knowledge and research at C40.
State and national governments should consider incorporating an early retirement of coal alongside investing in clean energy, while not building any new coal plants, as cornerstones of their air quality and climate policies. C40’s research makes it clear that a rapid phase-out of coal-generated electricity near Kolkata would:
● Save lives by reducing air pollution. Current expansion could cost 31,000 premature deaths as well as 13,400 pre-term births and 23,900 asthma emergency hospital visits over the next decade. It would increase disease rates, with an additional 3,260 asthma cases among children. It is estimated that a coal expansion would result in a total of 25,400 life-years lived with disabilities.
● Benefit the economy. Air pollution also impacts urban economies through a reduction in labour productivity and an increase in employee absence, which lead to economic losses and increasing health costs. In India, business leaders estimate that employee productivity decreases by 8-10% on high pollution days. Our research suggests that around 13.3 million sick days could be caused by air pollution exposure from coal power plants in Kolkata if the current proposed expansion of coal capacity takes place. Over the coming decade, the economic health costs associated with coal pollution in Kolkata is estimated at 15.8 billion USD.
● Generate employment. Create 150,000 energy jobs by 2030 by retiring the oldest and least competitive coal plants while investing in solar and wind energy to supply Kolkata with renewable electricity.
● Provide urban residents with cheaper electricity. Provide urban residents with cheaper electricity. Solar energy is already cheaper than new and operating coal power plants in India. Investing in clean energy rather than new coal plants will impact household savings as well as reduce costs for businesses and government operations that are major electricity consumers.
● Tackle climate change. Reduce India’s total annual GHG emissions by 11% (274 MtCO2 of emission savings) per year, which would be the equivalent of taking 60 million vehicles off the road for a year.
“A transition to clean energy is not only critical for Indian cities to reduce air pollution, improve their residents’ health and deliver their climate targets, aligned to Paris Agreements but also to create jobs.” Shruti Narayan , Regional Director C40, South and West Asia
C40 Cities has, together with the University of Maryland in the U.S. and CREA, modelled a plant-by-plant retirement scenario that considers the age, technology, profitability, operating hours, water and air pollution impact. Based on our modelling, coal use in India must peak by 2021, and reduce by 20% between 2021 and 2030, before the entire fleet of Indian coal plants is retired by the year 2045. Around Kolkata, 23 coal units (2 GW),, the oldest, most polluting and least cost-effective plants, could already retire in the next two years, followed by 59 (7 GW) other coal units by 2030 and a full phase out by 2045.
“The planned expansion of coal-generated electricity in India must end immediately. State and national authorities should cancel its funding of new coal plants while setting ambitious targets for retiring the existing coal capacity.” Markus Berensson, Senior Research Manager, C40 cities