Old King Coal is still king in the Western Balkans. Nearly all countries in this part of Europe burn coal for electricity: the share is two thirds in North Macedonia and nearly 100 per cent in Kosovo.
Extracting and burning coal for electricity is also the largest contributor to climate change, and the related natural disasters are increasing in the region, making local communities vulnerable. At the same time, coal plays an essential role in the region’s socioeconomic fabric.
In Novaci, North Macedonia, 4 000people are directly employed by the Bitola coal mine and power plant. As one local authority puts it, ‘One person in every family is connected to the power plant.’ Urgent action to address climate change in the Western Balkans is thus easily stymied in public discussions as too costly to local livelihoods.
This project aims to circumnavigate this dilemma by advancing a different narrative on climate change that focuses attention on burning coal as a public health crisis.
Coal is making people in the region sick. 16 coal power plants in the Western Balkans emit as much SO2 and dust pollution as the entire fleet of coal plants in the EU. Each year 3 900 people die and 8 000 cases of bronchitis in children and other chronic illnesses are reported, yet public data about air pollution caused by coal is almost never available.
We will make the unseen problem of air pollution more visible by organising a trail run around the Bitola plant in North Macedonia that will in real time monitor air pollution, resulting in international media coverage of the event and increasing public support for action on climate change in coal-dependent regions, thus pressuring decision makers to act.