The western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Montenegro) stands among the European leaders in fossil fuel air pollution, with serious consequences for bordering countries too. This dramatic environmental problem is highlighted in a recent report published as part of the “Europe Beyond Coal” campaign, and promoted by the NGOs HEAL, Sandbag, Climate Action Network Europe and CEE Bankwatch Network.
Coal plants, as the report shows, cause the premature deaths of thousands of people every year in Europe: in 2016 there were 2013 such deaths in EU countries, and 1239 in the western Balkans. Along with this come severe respiratory and cardiovascular problems in adults and infants. The harm is due to pollutants from coal combustion: particularly damaging are sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NO2). The negative health impact – the report emphasises – is provoked by exposure to these pollutants in both the short term and the long term.
Coal plants – the researchers note – don’t just have an impact on human health, but also have a serious impact on national healthcare systems. In the report it is estimated that the consequences of coal plant pollution has cost, again in 2016, between 2 to 4 billion euro to healthcare systems in the western Balkans, and from 3.5 to 5.8 billion euro to countries in the European Union (Croatia and Romania especially).
Eight of the ten most polluting installations in Europe are found in the western Balkans. On average, a coal plant in the western Balkans emits SO2 levels twenty times greater than a plant in the European Union. In 2016, 16 coal plants located in the western Balkans caused as much pollution as the 250 plants active in the European Union. The data suggests that Kostolac B in Serbia and Ugljevik in Bosnia-Herzegovina produce a quarter of all sulphur dioxide emitted by all coal plants throughout the continent. Plants in the western Balkans often don’t have access to desulphurisation plants; in other cases, they possess such plants, but they don’t work.
A transition to renewable energies?
While many EU member states aim to suspend the production of electricity through coal by 2030, countries in the western Balkans suffer from significant levels of energy poverty and rely on very dated, polluting plants. The state-run Elektroprivreda Srbije currently plans to enlarge its Kostolac B plant, contracted to CMEC (China Machinery Engineering Corporation) and financed by the Chinese EximBank.
In reality, the passage towards renewable energies no longer comes with such a high price as it had in the past. Changes in the regulatory framework and a commitment backed by state f