While coal is king in the Philippines, a new Greenpeace Southeast Asia report has revealed for the first time the current health impacts of existing coal-fired power plants, as well as projected health impacts of operating and planned power plants in the Philippines.
The report, Coal: A Public Health Crisis. Diseases and deaths attributed to coal use in the Philippines showed an estimated 960 premature deaths each year due to stroke, ischemic heart disease, other cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases. If the new power plants are to be developed, premature deaths may rise up to 2,410— more than double the current number of people dying from coal-related pollution in the Philippines.
“Results of the research show that coal-fired power plants expose everyone in the Philippines to toxic pollution, resulting in hundreds of premature deaths every year,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Senior Global Coal Campaigner at Greenpeace International and also one of the authors of the research. “Leading economies from the United States to China and Europe are already relaying on modern, renewable energy sources for their additional power needs, showing that this is a real option for Philippines as well.”
More than one-third of the energy used to generate electricity in the Philippines comes from burning coal. Currently, the country has 17 operational coal plants, with 29 more approved by the Department of Energy (DOE), set to begin commercial operations by 2020.
The report is based on research carried out at Harvard University on the impacts of emissions coming from coal-fired power plants on the air quality of selected countries in Asia. For the Philippine version, Greenpeace collaborated with HealthJustice to write the report, with support from Health Care Without Harm – Asia and the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.
Coal use harms the environment and public health at every stage of its life cycle. Coal-fired power plants emit sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2) and other gaseous pollutants in the air that can react chemically to form particulate matter that is 2.5 µm in diameter.
Aside from generating particulate matter, coal combustion also affects health indirectly by contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change can bring extreme heat, lead to natural disasters, and eventually increase diseases transmitted through insects such as malaria and dengue.
The study evaluated 13 operational coal-fired power plants in the Philippines with a combined installed capacity of 3,799.10 megawatts (MW), as well as the potential impacts of plans to build 29 new coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 11700MW, which could dramatically increase levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and PM2.5 emissions.
“This pioneering study is an important addition to the growing body of health and scientific research on the adverse impacts of coal-fired power plants, not only to the environment, but to human health as well,” said Reuben Andrew Muni, Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “We strongly recommend for the DOE, the DOH and other policy-makers to read it and take heed as it presents a strong case on why the Philippines should end its dependence on coal-generated electricity now, not only for economic, environmental and climate change reasons, but on public health grounds as well.”
“This new study just confirms what we already know about the health effects of coal based on international evidence. For the longest time, we have been ignoring the environmental case for the phase out of coal. I hope that this time, the public health argument will convince us that coal is not the way to go towards a clean, sustainable and healthy energy future,” said Dr. Renzo Guinto, Campaigner for the Healthy Energy Initiative, Health Care Without Harm-Asia.
“New coal plants are a lose-lose proposition for the public. Increasing dependence on coal will consign us to dirty air for 30 or more years, as coal gets more expensive and other countries abandon it as an energy source. There is a way out of this vicious cycle. We must embrace renewables through a strong, health-driven energy policy,” said Atty. Ipat Luna, a Trustee of HealthJustice-Philippines.
“Coal burning is a proven nuisance to health and the climate. The more coal plants and mines are commissioned by the government, the more people and communities are placed in the direct path of perdition. Undoubtedly, it is a kiss of death to host communities and vulnerable nations like the Philippines. We thus demand for a moratorium on new coal plants, phase out of existing ones, and for a just transition to renewable energy options” said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, SANLAKAS Secretary General and PMCJ Energy Working Group Head.
Considering the Philippines’ rising population, poor health outcomes, and the scarcity of resources needed to adapt to the worst effects of climate change, Greenpeace recommends that the country should end its heavy dependence on coal as an energy source and accelerate initiatives involving renewable energy (RE) resources to meet its energy demands. RE is emerging as the energy of choice for an increasing number of communities and local government units (LGU). The report recommends that the government phases out of coal and fully embrace RE sources in the Philippines based on public health considerations.
Download the pdf version of Coal: A Public Health Crisis. Diseases and deaths attributed to coal use in the Philippines at http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/ph/press/reports/Coal-A-Public-Health-Crisis/
Notes to the Editor:
 World Health Organization (2015). Climate change and health factsheet. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/