Members of the European Parliament have overwhelmingly backed a motion calling for EU countries to stop burning coal for energy by 2030.
The Parliament’s demand was part of a motion calling for stronger action to tackle harmful air pollution and is a challenge to the conclusion of Germany’s coal exit commission, which had suggested a 2038 phase out date.
Climate and air pollution campaigners have called for a much faster phase out for Europe’s largest economy.
MEPs adopted the motion in the same week that new research revealed the number of early deaths caused by air pollution could be double previous estimates. A series of reports have demonstrated the impact of European coal plants on the health of people across the continent.
German energy company RWE was last year revealed as Europe’s most toxic coal company in the Last Gasp report.
The European Parliament’s opinion is not binding, but the fact it was backed by such a strong majority shows the wide political support for additional action to tackle air pollution from European policy makers.
446 MEPs supported the motion, 146 opposed and 79 abstained.
The text suppported by MEPs highlighted the fact that the energy production and distribution sector is “responsible for more than half of sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions and one fifth of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the 33 member countries of the European Environment Agency” and that:
“62% of mercury emissions from EU industry come from coal-fired power plants”
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin which damages human health and can destroy lives. Europe has committed to the Minamata Convention to phase out and limit mercury emissions from human sources and the EU’s Mercury Regulation was adopted last year.
EEA pollution data last year showed a big jump in mercury emissions from German and Polish coal-fired plants.
The mammoth Bełchatów power plant in Poland emits more mercury to the air than all Spanish industry combined.
Countries across Europe are announcing end dates for coal in order to meet climate and clean air commitments.
The Europe Beyond Coal campaign is also committed to achieving a 2030 coal phase out in Europe and is tracking which countries have already committed to exiting coal.
The European Commission has made protecting Europeans a central part of its work programme and has taken action to pursue governments that are failing to meets air quality requirements.
Air quality now looks set to be a major issue in the European elections this May.
The European Parliament motion also called for policies to tackle agricultural and transport emissions as well as detailing other measures for improving indoor and outdoor air quality in the EU.