Almost as many people die each year from coal burning in the UK as road accidents, according to new figures out this week.
The Health and Environmental Alliance (HEAL) analysis shows the shocking human health impacts of coal: 1,600 premature deaths each year, 68,000 additional days of medication, 363,266 lost work days and more than a million cases of lower respiratory symptoms. HEAL has rightly called for this carnage to be taken into account in any cost-benefit analysis of coal.
MPs have a chance to weigh it all up when they vote on the Energy Bill in the Commons on Wednesday. A small but critical amendment to the Bill would prevent coal fired power stations in the UK belching into the future with no meaningful limits on emissions of greenhouse gases and other toxic substances.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour joined forces last month in the Lords and voted in favour of the amendment. However the Tories have predictably landed on the wrong side of the debate, and will attempt to defeat the amendment in the Commons.
If they succeed, it’ll mean much of the UK’s power will come from ageing coal plants from for years to come. A staggering 20GW of coal that was expected to be retired in line with our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -around a fifth of our national power generating capacity - will remain on the grid.
The Committee on Climate Change has repeatedly warned that unabated coal burning beyond the early 2020s would mean we have no chance of decarbonising in line with Climate Act carbon budgets.
As well as risking very high greenhouse gas emissions, unlimited coal could also jeopardise investment in lower-carbon energy sources. And as the HEAL figures show, the cost of Government’s tacit support for coal is also being paid in early deaths.
Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, and the Autumn Statement on Thursday, I’m reminded of comments made by George Osborne in the lead up to the last election, contained in a speech curiously erased from the Internet but salvaged by Greenpeace.
“I want the Treasury in a Conservative government…to put in place the economic instruments to reduce emissions and meet our ambitious green goals….to drive forward the environmental agenda from day one of a Conservative government. The time for action is now. Future generations will not forgive us if we fail.”