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
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
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
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
“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.”