have passed since the deadline for the Western Balkan countries to comply with pollution limits. These are meant to reduce the deadly impacts of their coal power plants on human health and the environment. 

This is enshrined in the Energy Community Treaty through the Large Combustion Plants Directive. None of the countries using coal comply.

It’s time to comply or close.

Get the reports

To get the full picture, including all our supporting data, please download the full reports.

Western Balkan coal power plants pollute 6 times as much as allowed

In the last three years, the Western Balkan countries’ coal plants included in National Emission Reduction Plans have spewed out six times as much sulphur dioxide as allowed and 1.6 times as much dust pollution.

Between 2018 and 2020, these uncontrolled exceedances caused nearly 12,000 deaths — 3,700 in the Western Balkans themselves, an additional 7,000 in the EU countries and 960 in other regions further afield.


6.1 times

the legal limit of sulphur dioxide emitted in 2020

The biggest SO2 emitter was Kostolac B, whose SO2 emissions alone emitted 1.74 times as much as the national 2020 ceiling. Kostolac B’s desulphurisation equipment, fitted in June 2017, did not work until October 2020 when testing commenced.
Learn more


1.8 times

the legal limit of sulphur dioxide emitted in 2020

Kosovo breaches the ceilings for all three pollutants - SO2, NOx and dust - and not by a small margin. The worst problem is dust emissions. They were 4.25 times above the national ceiling at 5,867 tonnes, an increase from the 5,042 tonnes in 2018.
Learn more

Bosnia and Herzegovina

9.9 times

the legal limit of sulphur dioxide emitted in 2020

Ugljevik had the highest absolute emissions of SO2, despite the installation of desulphurisation equipment. Its emissions increased by 20 per cent compared to 2019, rather than decreasing.
Learn more

North Macedonia

5.5 times

the legal limit of sulphur dioxide was emitted in 2020.

North Macedonia’s dust emissions were more than double than the national ceiling. The Bitola B1+B2 stack was the highest emitter with 2,688 tonnes of dust, single-handedly breaching the national ceiling of 1,736 tonnes.
Learn more



operating hours above the legal limit of 20,000 at Pljevlja coal power plant at the end of 2020.

Montenegro’s only coal plant was allowed to run for a maximum of 20,000 hours between 2018 and 2023 before closing or undergoing a retrofit. In 2020 it exceeded this number, but kept operating!
Learn more

Get the full picture, download the reports.

Air pollution kills

An estimated 12,000 deaths have been caused by air pollution in the last three years due to negligence by coal plant operators and governments.

Visualising what this amount of pollution means is not easy, but our data does just that. Using satellite data and atmospheric model outputs, we are able to show how the pollution from the non-compliant coal power plants in the Western Balkans travels across the continent.

In addition to choking the communities around the coal power plants, the most affected neighbouring countries are Italy, Hungary, Romania and Greece.

(PM2.5 is chosen as the modelled pollutant because SO2 emissions are converted into secondary PM2.5, which travels much longer distances and remains in the atmosphere for long periods of time)

Basemap: GADM3.6 & A Schneider et al 2009 Environ. Res. Lett. 4 044003. Visualization: Andreas Anhäuser

Neither governments nor the EU are doing enough

Despite the region’s coal plants not playing by the rules, coal-based electricity from the Western Balkans is traded with the EU, no questions asked.

What's next?

The Western Balkan countries need to rid themselves of coal as soon as possible. Plants which cannot be closed imminently, urgently need to comply with EU industrial pollution legislation.
The EU must strengthen the Energy Community Treaty to ensure that breaches result in heavy fines, reflecting the grave health and environmental impacts. To deter imports of coal-based electricity, it needs to include electricity in the planned Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.