Cancelling new coal plants in Asia could save 50,000 lives a year.
According to new research from the University of Harvard and Greenpeace, the death toll from coal pollutants could rise from the current annual figure of 20,000 to 70,000 by 2030 if plants being planned or built in South East Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan go ahead.
They state the coal emissions produced by these plants would exceed coal emissions from the US and Europe combined.
The majority of the deaths (55,000) are forecast to happen in the rapidly developing South East Asia, which is expected to see an 83% rise in power demand by 2035 from 2011 levels – twice the global average.
Greenpeace has suggested nations in the area have the unique opportunity to ‘leapfrog’ dirty energy and move straight to the large-scale adoption of renewable power.
Vietnam has already cancelled 17 proposed coal-fired power stations, reducing health impacts by a quarter.
Shannon Koplitz, Harvard University’s Lead Researcher on the study, said: “Reliance on coal in emerging Southeast Asian countries will have substantial and long-lasting impacts on air quality and public health.
“We estimate that tens of thousands of premature deaths could be avoided through cleaner energy choices. These significant human health costs should be considered when making choices about Southeast Asia’s energy future”.
Last year China reduced its solar and wind targets and planned to increase the use of coal by 2020.