The Government’s announcement that coal power plants will be phased-out by 2025 has been warmly welcomed by health leaders. The decision, which follows a Government-led consultation, will help to both reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. Details on how the phase-out will be implemented are set to be announced in October.
In response to the announcement Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said:
“Estimates suggest that coal-fired power is responsible for an additional 1,600 premature deaths every year in the UK, and costs the UK as much as £3.1 billion each year in human health impact. GPs are usually the first port of call for patients with long term health conditions and we are often left picking up the pieces from this pollution, treating the conditions that dirty air promotes.
“We’re very pleased to see that coal is already starting to play a negligible role in the power system and look forward to seeing measures from the Government to ensure coal power disappears from our electricity system by 2025.
“The Government has taken a position of leadership on coal phase-out and we are encouraged to see signs of other countries following suit.”
Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said:
“We congratulate the UK Government for its pledge to end coal-fired power by 2025. This is an important step towards cleaning up our air but must not detract from the other actions that are also necessary.
“Some of the worst breaches of air quality safeguards occur in UK cities. These are highly localised and mainly caused by heavily-polluting vehicles, with children among those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution. The commitment to end coal power is welcome but air pollution is a silent killer and we hope other urgent necessary action will follow.”
Dr Nick Watts, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change said:
“Breathing in pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants increases the likelihood of developing ischaemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and exacerbates existing lung disorders. This health burden has been borne by people up and down the country and the NHS which carries the cost of treatment for these chronic conditions.
“The UK is showing to the rest of the world that it is possible to move beyond coal to a cleaner future where dirty fuels don’t burden our nation’s health. This is an important step from the Government in cleaning up Britain’s air from its dirtiest fuel. As health professionals we encourage measures aimed at keeping climate change and the health risks it brings from extreme weather and disease spread under control.
“It is now critical that adequate policy measures are in place to ensure that coal plants are retired as quickly as possible.”
Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK and the biggest public health risk after smoking. Burning coal contributes to air pollution as coal-fired power stations produce a number of air pollutants including nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), heavy metals such as mercury, and particulate matter (PM) – all of which are dangerous for human health. As a major driver of climate change – both in the UK and around the world – coal also damages health as a driver of climate change which creates numerous risks to human wellbeing.
In November last year, the UK Government published plans to phase-out coal by 2025 outlining that ‘our relatively inefficient and ageing fleet of coal power stations is not sustainable in the long-term’. Today’s confirmation that the UK Government will implement the coal phase-out is a major step towards avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, by meeting the UK’s legally-binding commitments to cut carbon emissions, but also a major public health win.