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Environmental organisation Greenpeace has released an analysis of satellite data from 1 June to 31 August this year which shows the world’s largest Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) air pollution hotspots across six continents. Mpumalanga is the world’s largest air pollution hotspot, according to the analysis.

Mpumalanga the worlds largest air pollution hotspot

Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of twelve coal fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 GW, owned and operated by Eskom. “It has been reported before that the Witbank area has the world’s dirtiest air, and now this analysis of high tech satellite data has revealed that the Mpumalanga province is the global number one hotspot for NO2 emissions. This confirms that South Africa has the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world which is both disturbing and very scary,” says Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.

The satellite data shows that Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels which blow across from Mpumalanga and into both cities due to close proximity and regular east winds. The average wind directions over Johannesburg and Pretoria in the last 30 years on Meteoblue indicate that for about 28% of the year, the wind is blowing over Johannesburg from either ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE, and S which are all directions where the winds would be blowing pollution from coal-fired power plants into the cities.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a dangerous pollutant in and of itself and also contributes to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, two of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. This is one of the reasons that many countries have implemented Minimum Emission Standards (MES). However, South Africa has relatively weak MES that allow coal-fired power stations to emit up to 10 times more NO2 than is allowed in China or Japan.

In addition, the majority of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations do not comply with these MES. In 2015, Eskom was granted a five year postponement from complying with MES. Eskom has again applied for postponements for nitrogen oxides for 16 of its 19 power plants (including 14 coal-fired power plants and 2 liquid fuel power plants), this year.

“Coal kills, and Greenpeace strongly opposes any further postponements from complying with air quality regulations and demands that all coal-fired power stations that don’t comply with the existing air quality regulations be decommissioned on an accelerated timeline,” Steele says.

“The Government should also set up an action plan with concrete steps, measures and deadlines to make sure that air pollution levels in high priority areas comply with existing regulations. This means that no new coal-fired power stations can be included in the national electricity plan (IRP 2018), unit 5 and 6 of Kusile coal power plant in Mpumalanga must be cancelled and 50% of current coal-fired power stations need to be decommissioned by 2030 in line with the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C.”

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