Mon, Mar 25, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Asia’s coal addiction puts chokehold on its air-polluted cities

By Michael Taylor  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

Over the past year, the number of patients treated each day in the hospital unit where cardiologist Ade Imasanti Sapardan works in the Indonesian capital has almost doubled to about 100.

Sapardan, who sees up to 150 people every week, cited worsening air pollution as a major reason for the rise in patients seeking treatment in the mega city of Jakarta, home to 10 million people.

“People in Jakarta have bad pollution every day ... everybody is not really breathing safe air,” Sapardan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Half her patients suffer from symptoms linked to air pollution — such as chest pains, coughing and breathlessness.

Nine out of 10 people breathe polluted air, according to the World Health Organization, a problem that affects more cities in Asia than anywhere else in the world.

Burning fossil fuels is a large contributor to air pollution, which kills about 7 million people prematurely each year.

Green campaigners and energy experts say Asia’s growing demand for coal-fired power is one key cause of that pollution.

Coal demand outside Asia peaked in 1988 and has since fallen by one-third.

During the same period, it rose 3.5-fold in Asia, now the world’s main driver of coal-power demand, according to a report published late last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

“Cities with the worst air pollution are all in Asia and a lot of it is to do with coal,” CSIS researcher Nikos Tsafos said. “The region has such huge economic growth and potential, where the desire to bring electricity to people trumps all other concerns.”

An air quality report published by Greenpeace and IQAir AirVisual this month showed that the world’s 100 most polluted cities are largely in Asia — with India and China dominating.

Jakarta and Hanoi are the two most polluted cities in Southeast Asia, according to the report.

However, while China has already curbed coal use to meet politically important smog targets, and India this year launched a nationwide anti-pollution program, Tsafos said Southeast Asia was a “blind spot.”

Like many Asian countries, Indonesia is experiencing a rise in urbanization, population and economic growth and is scrambling to find ways to increase its power capacity.

Jakarta has about 10 coal power plants within a 100km radius of the city, green campaigners said, with up to three more being planned.

Twenty Jakarta residents are to file a lawsuit against Indonesian President Joko Widodo, backed by non-governmental organizations including environmental group Greenpeace.

They argue that policymakers have not done enough to tackle air pollution in the capital and hope to force the government to move away from coal power and into renewables.

Sapardan’s medical expertise would be used in the action, which would also target the governors of Jakarta and its surrounding regions, as well as the country’s health and forestry ministers.

They want a tightening of air standards, coordinated efforts to tackle air pollution, and recognition by the central government of the link between coal-power plants and air pollution to force a change in power policy.

“The global trend is now to stay away from coal, but in Southeast Asia it has gone the other way, including in Indonesia,” said Tata Mustasya, climate and energy campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “We still use coal and are expanding it to meet our power needs.”

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