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.

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Western Balkan coal power plants pollute 5.6 times as much as allowed

In 2022, the Western Balkan countries’ coal plants included in National Emission Reduction Plans spewed out 5.6 times as much sulphur dioxide as allowed and 1.8 times as much dust pollution. This is also the first year they collectively emitted more nitrous oxides than allowed.

The Energy Community Secretariat has opened several cases against the countries for their non-compliance and the lack of investments in pollution reduction from coal combustion. However, the region’s governments have yet to act and meanwhile plant operators continue with business as usual.

Sulphur dioxide emissions for the Western Balkans NERP coal plants, compared to the allowed emissions ceiling, 2018 to 2022

Air pollution kills

An estimated 12,000 deaths were caused by illegal air pollution between 2018 and 2020 alone due to negligence by coal plant operators and governments. Out of these, 3,700 were in the Western Balkans themselves, an additional 7,000 in the EU countries and 960 in other regions further afield. Since there has been barely any improvement since then, the health impacts certainly remained high in 2022 as well.

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, neighbouring countries are constantly affected as well.

(PM2.5 was 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.

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