Following the launch of Greenpeace Africa’s campaign to highlight the impacts of burning coal to produce electricity on residents of coal communities, Greenpeace has noted that Eskom has released a public statement outlining the utility’s current pollution reduction plan, which simply confirms that Eskom puts profit before people.

Research shows that air pollution from Eskom’s coal power plants are currently causing an estimated 2 200 premature deaths per year. This includes approximately 200 deaths of young children.

Meanwhile the economic cost to society of generating electricity from coal is estimated at R30 billion per year. “Eskom’s current pollution reduction plan is wholly inadequate, given the threat that we are facing: people’s lives are at risk. Essentially, the house is burning down, and Eskom is offering one bucket of water to put out the fire” said Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.

Eskom has applied for far-reaching postponements from complying with the country’s Minimum Emission Standards, which come into effect in 2015. The utility says that complying with the law is too expensive with too few benefits.

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Eskom further argues that the real contributor to poor air quality is the burning of coal in households. But the evidence that coal-fired power stations cause death and disease is clear [3], and it is impossible to put a price on human lives. “The excess emissions Eskom will produce if it doesn’t comply with air quality legislation are projected to cause approximately 20 000 premature deaths over the remaining life of the existing coal power plants [4]. This includes approximately 1 600 deaths of young children. We can prevent these deaths if Eskom’s applications for emissions exemptions are rejected and full compliance with the Minimum Emission Standards is required. No polluter should be above the law, not even Eskom” added Steele.

Greenpeace Africa will be hosting the opening of a photographic exhibition entitled “The Poisoned People” on Thursday at Constitution Hill, which will feature the harrowing stories of people living in coal communities, and images that depict the daily realities in the country’s coalfields[5].

Greenpeace invites Eskom’s newly appointed CEO, Tshediso Matona, to the exhibition opening where coal affected residents will narrate their plight. Eskom does not have a licence to kill, and it is critical that the new CEO urgently steers the utility in the direction of renewable energy and opportunities instead of pursuing dead-end, dangerous coal.