Global | Health professionals call on G7 nations to phase out coal

82 organizations from 30 countries representing more than 300,000 doctors, nurses, and public health professionals and advocates are calling on G7 nations to accelerate the transition away from coal to save lives.

Healthy Energy Initiative partners Health Care Without Harm, the Health and Environment Alliance, and the Climate and Health Alliance, along with the Initiative’s health sector partners in several countries, are among the signatories of the Global Health Statement on Coal Plants.

Dignity Health, ThedaCare, Hackensack University Medical Center, and Seattle Children’s Hospital – members of the Health Care Climate Council, a leadership body established by Health Care Without Harm representing hospitals across the United States that are committed to addressing the health impacts of climate change – also signed the statement.

Spotlight on G7 for climate and health leadership

The Global Health Statement was issued ahead of the G7 Summit in Japan, one of the first major international gatherings since leaders committed in Paris to meaningful climate action, where the global response to public health emergencies, climate change, and sustainable development are on the agenda.

G7 nations can catalyze progress towards all of these objectives by phasing out support for coal power, which would generate immediate and long-term health, environmental, and economic benefits.

G7 leaders agreed in 2015 to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. Health Care Without Harm’s co-founder and president Gary Cohen wrote at the time that this timeline “is not a cause for celebration; it’s an example of feel-good climate procrastination. Climate change is already affecting the health of millions of people around the world, and if we don’t act now, it’s going to get worse.”

Signatories of the Global Health Statement say more aggressive global action is needed, with leadership from all G7 nations, to reduce the human toll of air pollution and prevent the worst health effects from climate change.

The health case against coal

The range and severity of health impacts due to coal and the resulting climate disruption are now widely recognized by the health community worldwide.

The current appeal to G7 nations is the latest in a series of public statements from health professionals and health organizations urging the phase out of coal, including the Paris Platform for Healthy Energy and the Kolkata Call to Action for Public Health.

Coal-powered electricity worsens respiratory and cardiovascular disease in nearby communities, contributing to approximately 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide each year from outdoor air pollution. Coal plants planned in Japan alone could cause at least 10,000 premature deaths from air pollution. The health impacts of coal carry a staggering price tag; for example, coal plants in the European Union are estimated to produce up to €43 billion in health costs annually. The full lifecycle of coal carries additional costs to society due to its large waste stream of air and water pollutants and its hazards to workers. Finally, coal combustion is one of the largest single contributors to climate change, which has been called the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century by the World Health Organization.

Accelerating the transition away from coal will create large economic gains from avoided health impacts. Ontario’s coal phase-out, for example, will deliver health savings valued at approximately US $3 billion per year.

The upshot

The health of millions of people depends on G7 nations leading the world in a just transition away from the mining, burning, and financing of coal. In light of this year’s G7 Summit priorities including health, climate, and sustainable development, an energy roadmap that emphasizes coal is counterproductive and shortsighted. Given the health benefits and health cost savings that can be achieved by prioritizing renewable energy and energy efficiency, G7 nations have an attractive opportunity to demonstrate leadership by committing to a rapid phase-out of coal in favor of healthy energy options.

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