First of its kind analysis on the health harm of burning fossil gas shows that in 2019 alone, burning fossil gas for power (and heat) generation caused over 2,800 premature deaths from air pollution (from PM2.5, NO2 and ozone) in the EU-27 and the UK. The price tag for this reliance on fossil gas is up to 8.7 billion EUR in health costs for that year, with the largest health burden falling onto Italy, Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Spain.
As the EU Commission is set to present the REPowerEU package, health, environmental and climate NGOs in the new briefing “False fix: the hidden health impacts of Europe’s fossil gas dependency” warn that burning fossil gas, like other fossil fuels, also poses a significant health risk:
The price tag for the EU’s and UK’s reliance on electricity generation from fossil gas sums up to up to 8.7 billion EUR in health costs in 2019 alone, with the largest health burden in Italy, Germany, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Spain. These costs stem from direct impacts on health from air pollution by gas combustion, including over 2,800 premature deaths, over 15,000 cases of respiratory impacts in adults and children, over 4,100 hospital admissions and over 5 million days in lost productivity because of illness.
NGOs urge for the adoption of a timeline and an ambitious deadline for the phasing out of all fossil fuels, including fossil gas, and the avoidance of false solutions in the process. They stress that a continued reliance on fossil fuels undermines the EU’s zero pollution commitment included in the Green Deal, and accelerates climate change, when alternatives exist.
“While coal power generation is the most polluting form of electricity generation, burning fossil gas is not pollution-free. The health impacts and cost stemming from fossil gas combustion have been grossly underestimated in public and policy discussions, and cannot be neglected. The continued reliance on fossil gas is highly unhealthy, especially because gas power plants are located in densely populated areas, where a large number of people are under threat from air pollution impacts.”
Vlatka Matkovic, Senior Health and Energy Officer at HEAL
“The war and energy crisis have exposed that the EU is not decarbonising fast enough. There is a greater sense of urgency to switch to renewables due to the huge geopolitical, economic and climate risks associated with fossil fuels. The diversification of fossil gas supplies is not a viable solution. The only way to protect EU citizens and mitigate the risks is to end fossil fuel dependence through the accelerated deployment of cleaner, cheaper, homegrown renewables.”
Sarah Brown, Senior Energy & Climate Analyst at EMBER
“EU plans to replace a large part of Russian gas imports with liquefied fossil gas (LNG) will bring harm to communities across the planet. If Europe fails to wean itself off all fossil gas, it is not only failing to protect Europeans’ health. It is complicit in the poisoning of people affected by fracking gas for export, which leads to air and water pollution with chemicals and radioactive substances, causes earthquakes and poses a serious health threat to those impacted by Europe’s unhampered fossil fuels greed.”
Frida Kieninger, Director of EU Affairs at Food & Water Action Europe
“This first-of-a-kind research on gas-fired power generation revealed that the health impacts are much larger than would be expected based on total air pollutant emissions. The idea of gas as a ‘less polluting’ fuel has meant that gas-fired power plants have been built in densely populated and urban areas where air pollutant emissions have exceptionally large health impacts. Conversely, the health and economic benefits of phasing out fossil gas will be very significant”.
Lauri Myllyvirta, co-author of the research and lead analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.