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AfrElec: Coal closures could save megacities from pollution-related deaths

The closure of coal fired-plants located close to urban centres across the developing world in line with the 1.5-degree climate targets would prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths and drastically cut the economic fallout of air pollution.

Around 68% of the world’s current fleet of coal power plants lie within 500 km of the world’s 40 largest cities, a report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air found. These cities account for two-thirds of global primary energy use.

This means that coal-free cities would have a tremendous impact of both the health and economies of cities in Africa and Asia, such as Kolkata, Johannesburg, Jakarta, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Beijing, Shanghai, Chicago, Mumbai and Hanoi.

The alternative of investing in clean energy would deliver lower-cost electricity in Africa and Asia and create more energy sector jobs in most of these cities.

The report found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants could cause an estimated 264,900 people to die prematurely between 2020 and 2030 in 61 C40 cities.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a group of 97 cities around the world that represent one twelfth of the world's population and one quarter of the global economy.

Coal affects all aspects of C40 residents’ health, contributing to 121,100 premature births, 93,600 new asthma cases among children and 247,900 asthma emergency visits in the same cities from 2020 to 2030.

These premature deaths from coal power could cost the 61 cities $877bn from 2020 to 2030, with the cost of work absences from health issues estimated at $10bn.

However, the report notes that some progress is already taking place. Such actions include coal bans, emissions regulations and shareholder action.

Other options include shifting demand from coal to clean energy, including by transitioning municipal energy procurement to sustainable energy, aggregating energy demand to broker better deals, and participating in energy regulation processes at other levels of government.

Governments and local authorities can also accelerate renewable energy generation by using city assets for clean energy projects, assessing local potential for renewables, incentivising renewables in private buildings, and exploring supportive municipal policies such as local feed-in tariffs (FiTs).

Such changes have the potential to provide a major contribution to achieving 1.5°C, preventing around 1.3 GtCO2e from cities’ own electricity demand, and through this influence a wider phase-out of coal-generated electricity of 24 GtCO2e, equivalent to 6% of the world’s total remaining carbon budget.