False fix: the hidden health impacts of Europe’s fossil gas dependency

May 17, 2022 | by
  • Description

With the war in Ukraine, energy considerations have risen to the top of the EU policy agenda. There is an increased understanding that all fossil fuels, not only those imported from Russia, are an economic, political, security, climate and health risk.

This briefing by health, environmental and climate NGOs quantifies for the first time the health impacts of burning fossil gas for power (and heat) generation, excluding private households. While coal combustion continues to be the most polluting, health-harming form of energy generation, the health impacts and cost from fossil gas have been grossly underestimated in public and policy discussions and cannot be neglected.

Burning fossil gas is not pollution free. The price tag for the EU's and UK's reliance on electricity generation from fossil gas is 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 2,864 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. All of these impacts are preventable.

This briefing underlines that the continued reliance on fossil gas is highly unhealthy. Given that gas power plants are located in areas of high population density, a large number of people are under threat from air pollution impacts.

As the EU Commission is set to present the REPowerEU package, health, environmental and climate NGOs and think tanks 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. 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.

All efforts, including financial ones, must now be concentrated on achieving a 100% renewable and energy efficient European Union as quickly as possible.