Ukraine’s air pollution problem is not receiving the attention it deserves, neither at the national nor at international levels. The authorities are dragging their feet on both monitoring air quality and emissions reductions measures, and the international community allows continuous delays and deadline extensions for Ukraine’s major polluters, which impact the air quality throughout Europe.
Davor Pehchevski , Project leader | 19 October 2020
Ladyzhyn TPP, Ukraine Credit: Oleg Savitsky
The air in Ukraine is worse than anywhere else in Europe. The World Health Organisation ranks Ukraine as the country with the highest health impact from air pollution in Europe. With almost one third of the air pollution produced by energy generation, cutting emissions from power plants has to be the first step in dealing with this health hazard.
With 70% of Ukraine’s primary energy consumption coming from various fossil fuels, which in turn emit an enormous volume of pollutants into the air, it is safe to say that fossil fuels are the main culprit of the country’s air pollution. Coal-fired power plants lead the way: the massive fleet of 20 plants constantly pumps sulphur dioxide, dust and nitrous oxides into the air.
To put the problem into perspective, the reported sulphur dioxide emissions of the Ukrainian coal power plants for 2019 are 589,557 tonnes. This is strikingly close to the 617,281 tonnes emitted in 2019 by the 16 Western Balkans power plants, which in recent years have become famous for emitting more sulphur dioxide than all of the EU power plants combined. A recent report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air concluded that Ukraine is the single biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide in Europe, with most of the emissions coming from coal-fired power plants.
Ukrainian coal power plants also reported emissions of 104,809 tonnes of nitrous oxides, twice as much as the notorious 16 Western Balkans power plants, and 155,891 tonnes of dust, which completely dwarfs the 17,556 tonnes from the Western Balkan plants.
According to the World Health Organisation’s information on mortality and the burden of disease from ambient air pollution for 2016, Ukraine has 2,538 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost annually per 100,000 people. This is the highest number in Europe and is mostly driven by Ukraine’s fossil fuel addiction.
As a European Union accession candidate and a signatory to the Energy Community Treaty, Ukraine has a long list of obligations whose implementation would lead to a significant reduction in emissions. However, Ukraine has done a terrible job upholding these obligations so far, even with seemingly simple tasks such as reporting emissions to the Energy Community and the European Environment Agency.
In the emissions reports made under the Large Combustion Plants Directive, which has been in force in Energy Community contracting parties since January 2018, Ukraine’s data have several inconsistencies. The report for 2018 is missing emissions data for 15 of the stacks that were operating during that year and should have reported emissions. Both 2018 and 2019 reports include plants, such as the Burshtynska power plant (which exports electricity to the EU), whose reported emissions match the limits set in the National Emissions Reduction Plan down to the exact figure. This raises suspicion that the numbers reported may be incorrect.
These inconsistencies in the reporting make the accuracy of the data questionable, to say the least, and in reality the emissions figures might be even higher. Also, due to the country’s old and degraded air quality monitoring system, the plants’ impact on ambient air quality is also not properly measured.
Ukrainian citizens have taken it upon themselves to fill this information void with a wide network of citizen-installed particulate matter (PM) monitoring stations. However, indicative citizen monitoring is not a replacement for official monitoring with data available in real-time, and it certainly cannot replace continuous monitoring of emissions at the stationary sources of pollution.
It is high time for Ukraine’s government to take the air pollution problem seriously and to take concrete measures to reduce emissions at the source. This is a long and expensive process, regardless of whether it includes bringing the emissions from the power plants down to legal limits or replacing them with renewable capacities. However, further delays must not be tolerated by any party involved, including the international community. As long as Ukraine’s dangerous emissions continue unabated, people will continue to pay the cost with their lives.
Bankwatch published a publication covering the impacts of Ukraine’s energy sector on air quality and recommendations to protect human health and the environment from air pollution in Ukraine.
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