Harvard Study Reveals Premature Death Risks From Indonesia's Expanding Use of Coal Power

A worker unloads coal at a railway yard in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh in this July 8, 2014, file photo. (Reuters Photo/Ajay Verma)

By : Jakarta Globe | on 9:12 PM August 18, 2015
Category : News, Environment, Featured

Jakarta. Indonesia's coal-fired power plants cause an estimated 7,100 premature deaths every year, according to a recent study by Harvard University and Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The number could climb further to over 28,000 per year if the Indonesian government goes ahead with an ambitious rollout of more than one hundred new coal-fired power plants, Harvard and Greenpeace say in a joint press statement, a copy of which was sent to the Jakarta Globe last week.

The lead Harvard researcher in the project, Shannon Koplitz, said emissions from coal-fired power plants form particulate matter and ozone that were detrimental to human health.

Hindun Mulaika, the climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia said, “Lives are cut short through strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.”

“The health impacts sadly also include deaths of many young children,” she added.

Koplitz noted, however, that Indonesia, ignorant of the health risks and has done little to explore the associated health impacts from coal plants, is currently one of the countries in the world with the largest plans to expand coal-fired power generation.

“Our results show that planned coal expansion could significantly increase pollution levels across Indonesia,” Koplitz said. “The human health cost from this rising coal pollution should be considered when making choices about Indonesia's energy future”.

The report on the research, "The Human Cost of Coal," is being launched on the back of the recent announcement by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to build an additional 35 gigawatts of new power plants, 22 gigawatts of which would come from coal power plants.

The joint study is the first of its kind to look at illness and deaths associated with Indonesia’s coal-fired power plants.

Greenpeace East Asia coal and air pollution specialist Lauri Myllyvirta said it was unfortunate that Southeast Asia's largest economy was moving against the current trend –- even in China, whose heavy use of coal has clogged its cities with heavy air pollution.

“New power generation in China, US, and the EU is already coming predominantly from renewables and 2014 was the first year that renewable energy growth overtook fossil fuel growth globally,” Myllyvirta said.

“China, which offers a warning example of where unfettered coal expansion could be taking Indonesia, is steering away from coal because of the horrendous toll on air quality and health,” he added.

Hindun warned that every new coal-fired power plant meant elevated health risks for people in Indonesia.

She said even the proposed “clean coal” power plant in Batang, Central Java, alone could cause 30,000 premature deaths over an operating life of 40 years.

“President Jokowi has a choice: stay with a business-as-usual approach to generating electricity and see the lives of thousands of Indonesians cut short, or lead the switch and rapid expansion to safe, clean, renewable energy,” she added.

With all the health risks posed by coal power plants, as the study has discovered, the choice should become a lot clearer now for Indonesia, Hindun further added.

“Indonesia has the opportunity to leapfrog dirty technologies and follow other world leaders making the switch to clean energy. This would result in a healthier, safer and more prosperous population,” she said.

The worrying figures of premature deaths cited in the study report are based on new atmospheric modeling conducted by the research team at Harvard University’s Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group, using a cutting edge atmospheric chemistry-transport model, GEOS-Chem, the press statement says.

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