The international study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences revealed that increased coal burning in northern China greatly decreased the life expectancy rate for the region.
The report, by experts in China, the US and Israel, said a government policy of giving out free coal for home and office heating everywhere north of the Huai River in central China between 1950 and 1980 resulted in an increase in the burning of coal and an associated increase in heart and lung disease.
"Life expectancies are about 5.5 years lower in the north owing to an increased incidence of cardiorespiratory mortality," the study said.
Since there are 500 million residents in northern China, the air pollution was associated with the loss of more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy, the study added.
WCA chief executive officer Milton Catelin said the key information missing from the study was that for the timeframe it covered, China hadn’t installed equipment to abate air pollution from coal use in homes.
“It is not reliance on coal that reduces life expectancy, it is using energy in a traditional, uncontrolled and unabated way,” Catelin commented.
“Modern coal-fired power stations utilize a range of technologies to control particulate emissions, along with other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides.
“Modern technologies, in use today, can reduce particulate emissions from coal-fired power stations by 99.95%.”
Catelin’s reminder came as the US and China announced joint goals to implement five key initiatives to combat global climate change.
The second initiative called for both countries to implement carbon capture, utilization and storage technology to reduce emissions from coal combustion in the electric power and industrial sectors.
“Recent steps to encourage the wider use of clean technologies in China should be commended,” Catelin said.
“It would be disappointing if the findings from this research were simply used to attack the use of coal. Coal plays a vital role in meeting energy needs and alleviating energy poverty.
“The United Nations Development Programme has stated that none of the millennium development goals can be met without major improvement in the quality and quantity of energy services in developing countries,” Catelin continued.
“In China, coal has been the major energy source fuelling the industrial development which raised over 660 million people out of poverty over the past three decades.
“It has fuelled an unprecedented poverty alleviation campaign.
“Indeed, without poverty reductions in China – 80% fuelled by coal – global poverty has actually increased over the past 30 years.
“This research acts as a reminder of the importance of modern emissions control technologies and the need to ensure these are deployed as widely as possible,” Catelin said, calling for all governments and international bodies, such as the World Bank, to step up to ensure this happens.