The avoidable health cost of dirty coal in just three countries of the region is 6.5 billion Euros

Ministerial Council of the Energy Community Treaty, led by Serbia, is scheduled to meet in Belgrade on Thursday, October 24 to decide on their approach to cleaning up pollution from dirty coal in line with their EU membership aspirations. A group of NGOs have published a report to contribute to this discussion. Time to Phase out Dirty Coal: The Hidden Cost We Can Avoid presented today in Belgrade, testifies to the need for protecting citizens of South Eastern Europe from the health damage resulting from use of coal. The leading regional organization, SEE Change Net, in cooperation with the Public Interest Advocacy Center – CPI (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Fractal and CEKOR (Serbia) and MANS (Montenegro) urge the Energy Community to avoid any delay in implementing EU legislation for reduction of air pollution from power plants.

A group of signatory countries to the Energy Community Treaty – led by Serbia – is trying to block the European Commission’s proposal to tighten up legislation controlling pollution from coal power plants. The strength of the decision by ministers of the region on two obscure but important directives (Large Combustion Plants Directive and Industrial Emissions Directive) will clearly show whether they care more about profits from energy or the health of their citizens.

So far, the countries of the region have failed to prepare for the stricter emissions standards and, as the deadlines for compliance near, they are looking for excuses. “By proposing to delay implementation of these crucial directives, Serbian government wants to condemn its people to living in the dirty air for years to come. We don’t want to be treated as second class citizens of Europe”, said Zvezdan Kalmar from CEKOR.

Jernej Stritih, author of the report, independent consultant and former director of Slovenia’s Government Office of Climate Change, stated: “If we compare the investment options of building new coal fired power plants or installing pollution control in the existing ones with the current annual costs of burning coal to the economy, which include health costs and subsidies, it becomes obvious that coal should be phased out as soon as possible.”

Annual projected health costs range from 2.3 to 6.5 billion EUR in the countries of the region – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.“Another alarming fact is that even if the pollution is reduced by 90% compared to present levels the annual health costs would remain at a level between 250 and 650 million EUR in these three countries”, says Lidija Kesar from Serbian NGO Fractal.

On the other hand, investing in pollution control and then closing the existing power plants in the next 10 years would cost 1 billion in investment and would cause around 40 billion external costs until their closure, but the negative health effects would be reduced much sooner than in case of building new power plants that would operate another 50 years.

The public of the region deserves better, explains Dejan Milovac of civil society organization MANS from Montenegro: “If EU environmental standards are not enforced vigorously, we will find ourselves in a situation where our government profits from selling energy to Italy and we get stuck paying the environmental and health costs.”

The European Commission and the Energy Community Secretariat must resist attempts to delay implementation of crucial pollution legislation which will help to reduce the number of deaths from coal. The Ministerial Council of the Energy Community Treaty needs to decide in favor of applying mechanisms which can save peoples lives. It is crucial that any strengthening of the Energy Community Parties’ obligations regarding the LCPD and the IED are binding, not ‘recommendations’ or ‘guidelines’. Irma Filipović of the Public Interest Advocacy Center – CPI says: “The decision which will be made on Thursday will clearly show whose interests are being protected – the interests of the industry or the interests of the citizens.”

LCPD/IED report is available below in English, Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian, as well as press releases in all four languages.