Last week the UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an end to new coal-fired power plants. Many European countries including the UK and Germany are decreasing their dependence on coal, but this is not the case everywhere. Across Africa many people rely on standby diesel generators to supplement erratic electricity supplies, leading to local air pollution problems and high emissions of climate-heating carbon dioxide.
Although Africa is in a unique position to leapfrog dependence on fossil fuels and utilise abundant renewable sources such as wind and solar, the continent is embarking on a massive expansion of fossil fuel electricity. More than 200 new power stations are planned, the majority of which will burn coal. Power ships – vast floating power stations, some burning highly polluting bunker oil – are already moored in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Mozambique.
African countries have little air quality legislation and poor enforcement. Without emission controls, a study led by the University of Leicester found, the air pollution from these new power plants and expanded fossil fuel use in transport could lead to an avoidable 48,000 early deaths each year by 2030. These are predicted to be mostly in South Africa, Malawi and Nigeria, where oil industry flares are already a major pollution source.