Planned coal expansion will cause a 60% jump in premature deaths in Indian metros: C40 Cities

Residents of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai are experiencing some of the worst health and economic impacts from coal pollution compared to those living in other major cities around the world. New research released today by C40 Cities examined India’s existing coal power plants and plans to expand India’s coal fleet in the years ahead. According to the study, under current plans major Indian cities would suffer 52,700 premature deaths, 31,300 preterm births, 46,800 asthma emergency hospital visits and 25.8 million days of sick-leave over the next decade. 

India is the second-largest coal user in the world. 55% of India’s coal-generated electricity is generated within 500 km of these five megacities. Air pollution from coal-fired power plants travels long distances and all of the coal plants within a wider geographical area (here defined as 500 km) put urban residents’ health at risk, especially the young, the elderly and pregnant women. 

The report suggests that state and national governments air quality plans should incorporate an early retirement of coal, starting with the oldest and most polluting units, alongside investing in clean energy instead of building new coal plants. C40’s research shows that retiring 20% of existing coal plants (approximately 46.5 GW of old coal) and stopping the construction of new coal power near Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chennai would have significant benefits between 2020-2030: 

Save lives by reducing air pollution. The current proposed coal expansion could cause 52,700 premature deaths, 31,300 preterm births and 46,800 asthma emergency hospital visits over the next decade in the 5 cities. The coal expansion would result in an additional 5,700 asthma cases among children and cause chronic health problems for urban residents. It is estimated that the coal expansion would result in a total of 48,900 life-years lived with disabilities. These health impacts could be avoided by retiring the oldest and least competitive coal plants around major Indian cities and investing in clean energy rather than new coal capacity between 2020-2030.

Benefit the economy. Air pollution impacts urban economies through a reduction in labour productivity and an increase in employee absence, leading to economic losses and increasing health costs. In India, business leaders estimate that employee productivity decreases by 8-10% on high pollution days.1 Our research suggests that around 25.8 million sick days could be caused by air pollution exposure from coal power plants in major Indian C40 cities between 2020-2030 if the current proposed expansion of coal capacity takes place. Over the coming decade, the economic health costs associated with coal pollution is estimated at 46.5 billion USD, more than twice as much as India’s total public health expenditure in 2018. 

Generate employment. Create 160,000 additional energy jobs by 2030 by replacing the 46.5GW of old uncompetitive coal plants with renewable energy. 

Provide urban residents with cheaper electricity. Solar and wind energy is already cheaper than new and operating coal power plants in India. Investing in clean energy rather than new coal plants will impact household savings as well as reduce costs for businesses and government operations that are major electricity consumers. 

Tackle climate change. Reduce India’s total annual GHG emissions by 11% (274 MtCO2 of emission savings) per year, which would be the equivalent of taking 60 million vehicles off the road for a year.

By continuing to support coal-fired power plants, national and state governments are threatening the health and well-being of all those living in major Indian cities while undermining India’s air quality targets. India’s current national coal policies fall dramatically short given that current plans would expand the coal fleet by 28% between 2020 and 2030 not reduce it by 20%, which global 1.5oC-compliant climate targets require. Current coal plans could increase the number of annual premature deaths from coal-related air pollution in major Indian cities by 60%.” Dr Rachel Huxley, Head of knowledge and research at C40. 

A transition to clean energy is not only critical for Indian cities to reduce air pollution, improve their residents’ health and deliver their climate targets, aligned to Paris Agreements but also to create jobs.” Shruti Narayan , Regional Director C40, South and West Asia 

C40 Cities has, together with the University of Maryland and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), modelled a plant-by-plant retirement scenario for India that considers the age, technology, profitability, operating hours, water and air pollution impact in order to identify how a coal phase-out could be structured to minimise economic losses by retiring the least competitive coal

plants first. A clear plan for how plants could retire over the next 25 years also provides coal asset owners and coal industry-employees with time to adapt to structural changes. 

Based on our modelling, coal use in India must peak at the latest this year, and reduce by 20% between 2021 and 2030, with the entire fleet of Indian coal plants being retired by the year 2045 to reduce emissions in line with a 1.5oC climate scenario. This scenario can support India to go beyond its current climate commitments, while drastically improving urban air quality and minimising economic losses. “This research shows that focussing on renewable energy will have broader economic, employment and health benefits than a continued expansion of coal power, which is incompatible with India’s clean air goals.” Markus Berensson, Senior Research Manager, C40 cities.