Recent research by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found that the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels is roughly $8 billion per day or 3.3% of the world’s global domestic product (GDP). Burning fossil fuels also causes 12,000 premature deaths daily.
The study entitled, Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels is the first global assessment of the economic burden of health impacts from fossil fuel air pollution. The research showed that burning fossil fuels also resulted in an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths every year globally as toxic pollutants are causing an increase in chronic and acute diseases. This costs the world some $2.9 trillion annually as a result of non-communicable diseases and respiratory made more likely by elevated pollution levels.
Particulate Matter (the small liquid droplets and particles in the atmosphere that comes from fossil fuels) air pollution increases work absences with an estimated cost of 1.8 billion days of work absences yearly worldwide.
Plus, the research also showed that air pollution from fossil fuels is affecting children from low-income families severely. There are at a minimum of 40,000 kids who die before reaching the age of five due to exposure to particulate matter air pollution.
In the Philippines, the study noted that air pollution due to burning fossil fuels, particularly, coal, gas, and oil is causing an estimated 27,000 premature deaths yearly, which is equivalent to roughly $6 billion in economic losses annually or as high as 1.9 percent of our country’s GDP.
The study concludes that decarbonizing globally can provide rapid gains for everyone. The authors stressed that many of the solutions to address climate change are the same ones needed to eliminate air pollution. This means that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is crucial in limiting global warming to 1.5 c above pre-industrial level while at the same time help in the reduction of the emission of air pollutants. “A phase-out of existing coal, oil and gas infrastructure brings major health benefits due to the associated reduction in air pollution,” the study read.
The numbers presented by this recent research is alarming. Yet it isn’t the first warning the world has received about the dangers of using fossil fuels heavily for our needs.
The recent Greenpeace study also somewhat echoes the findings of energy expert and geochemist James Conca who measured death prints or the “number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced”.
Conca’s research showed that globally, the mortality rate of coal is 100,000 for every 50 percent of electricity demand sourced from coal. Oil also has a large death print with its mortality rate of 36,000 for every 8% energy sourced from oil.
In contrast, solar rooftop and wind power, and mortality rates of 440 and 150, respectively. Each power source only contributes one percent respectively to the global energy at the time of the study.
Plus, the environmental benefits of shifting to renewable energy has long been well documented. For example, a study in the United Kingdom in 2017 showed that the carbon emission of the UK decreased by 5.8 percent in 2016 as the use of coal dropped by 52 percent.
Unfortunately, our government and energy planners don’t see the risks of using traditional sources of power continuously. Coal remains the dominant power source in the Philippines, accounting for 52 percent of the total energy supply in 2018. And unlike other countries that are closing down coal power plants, the Philippines will see a massive expansion of coal plants up until the next decade. Fitch Solution’s forecast released August last year showed that coal will continue to dominate our power mix and contribute to 59 percent of the energy mix by 2028.
There was a time when I have built coal plants myself to address the growing needs for more energy but we can no longer ignore the undesired effects of relying heavily on fossil fuels. And over the last few years, I have been advocating for the shift to renewables for a long time for a variety of reasons. It is possible to plan for a renewables only future for the country. Of course, we know that even if we go completely renewable it will not contribute much in terms of “volume” to the global need to bring down CO2 . However, as we say, a small candle lighted in the dark will go a long way in contributing to this global effort.
More importantly, as I have been saying renewable power is our best bet in getting ourselves affordable and stable power. Of course, the benefits to health and our environment are also more reasons to push for a major transition to cleaner energy as many countries are now doing. We also need to look at what climate change has been doing to our father patterns -we are one of the more disaster-prone countries in the world.
Maybe providing affordable and stable energy are not sufficient reasons for our planners and government to work double-time to fast track renewable energy development in our country. Perhaps the thought of premature deaths among Filipinos and especially among our young children less than five years of age can help convince that the time to make that big shift to cleaner power is now.