Coal Curbs in Asia Could Save 50,000 Lives Annually, Study Says

About 50,000 lives a year could be saved by 2030 if no new coal-fired power plants are built in Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, according to a study from researchers at Harvard University and Greenpeace International.

If coal plants currently planned or under construction in the region are actually built, some 70,000 deaths could result annually, up from about 20,000 deaths at the moment, Greenpeace said Friday in a statement summarizing the study. A majority of the mortalities will be in Southeast Asia, the group said.

The findings are based on work conducted by researchers from the Harvard University Atmospheric Sciences modeling group, the Harvard School of Public Health and Greenpeace that mapped out current emissions from all coal-fired power plants in the region. An atmospheric model was then used to evaluate how much air pollution across Asia comes from coal emissions, Greenpeace said.

The study highlights the inherent risk in a reliance on coal in Southeast Asia where most of the growth in electricity demand is currently projected to be met by the fossil fuel. Power demand in the region may rise by 83 percent by 2035 from 2011 levels, which is more than twice the global average, according to the statement.

If planned coal plants go ahead, coal emissions in Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan will triple by 2030 and surpass those in the U.S. and Europe, with the largest increases in Indonesia and Vietnam, said Greenpeace.

“Planned coal expansion in Southeast Asia is a particular concern because of these countries’ extremely weak emission standards for power plants,” Lauri Myllyvirta, senior global coal campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, said in the statement. “Governments across the region have the chance to urgently shift their energy policies and save the lives of tens of thousands of their citizens.”

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