A coalition representing Britain's 600,000 doctors and health workers on Wednesday called for a rapid phase-out of coal, saying it was an "imperative" measure and that climate change and air pollution were both "major health threats."
"Ending the use of coal is a simple, no-regrets public health intervention. The rapid phase-out of coal fired stations is an imperative first step. Coal is the most carbon-intensive source of power generation, and is a key focus for reducing the risks of climate change," the U.K. Health Alliance on Climate Change said in a report.
"Climate change and air pollution are both major health threats," the report, A Breath of Fresh Air, states. "They share a common driver: the combustion of fossil fuels. Pollution from coal plants alone costs the U.K. as much as £3.1bn [roughly $3.8bn] each year in human health impacts."
Pollution also disproportionately impacts children and can cause diseases ranging from lung cancer to stroke, killing 40,000 people a year in the country. In a press release (pdf) for the report, Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health fellow Jonathan Griggs calls it the "silent killer," and notes that the phasing out of coal would constitute a "double win for tackling the twin health threats of air pollution and climate change."
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Although the U.K. government promised almost a year ago that it would phase out coal by 2025, the groups raised concerns over the seeming lack of preparation to do so, with no consultation documents published since the plan was announced, the groups note.
Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the medical journal The Lancet, said the phase-out of coal use "is an essential step towards creating a sustainable energy policy for the U.K. It is also a vital co-benefit for health—ending coal use will deliver long-lasting health and environmental dividends for the British population. Life expectancies will be prolonged, disease and disabilities reduced, and future risks to health diminished. This is an opportunity to be seized."
The report calls for replacing coal with renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which are beneficial to both air quality and climate safety, which in turn is "advantageous to health," the report states. "Indeed, joining up policies on health, air pollution, and climate change can offset the costs of climate mitigation policies through the health benefits that they bring."
Added Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, "Cutting air pollution from coal will greatly benefit the lives of many people with long-term chronic health conditions and help to protect the health of future generations. Tackling air pollution and climate change will have numerous health benefits but it requires a joined-up approach from government to ensure the health impacts are better recognized and fully realized."