Large Protests In Pristina, Kosovo, Over Deadly Air Pollution

The recent (and ongoing) occurrence of dangerously high air pollution levels in the city of Pristina in Kosovo triggered a ban of cars from the city center, and a fairly large protest (for the country) as well, according to recent reports.

Clean Power Plan will lower air pollutionThe protest group, reportedly numbering well into the hundreds, chanted slogans such as: “Don’t poison us,” “Let’s save Pristina,” “Help,” etc..

While loud, energy-intensive (and respiratory system reliant) protesting outdoors when air pollution levels are at dangerously high levels may not sound intuitive, I won’t fault those involved for looking to force action on the matter.

What actions are actually realistic though?

Well, much of the air pollution in the city originates from the two coal-fired power plants located nearby, as well as from household burning of lignite and auto use so the answer is technically obvious, although economic hurdles stand in the way.

The technical solution, of course, is to either close down and replace the existing coal-fired power plants, or two retrofit them to reduce emissions, neither of which is cheap.

While renewables could of course technically be used to replace these coal-fired power plants, the fact is that Kosovo is home to some of the largest lignite reserves in the world (the 5th largest) — so the country isn’t too likely to embrace a shift away from coal willingly (too much money to be lost that way by important people, probably).

Reuters provides some interesting context: “At noon on Wednesday, the air quality index measured by the US embassy in Pristina was 262, a level deemed unhealthy and worse than Shanghai and Hangzhou in China. In recent days, it has reached 400, or hazardous, and people were told to stay indoors.”

“A 2013 World Bank study showed air pollution in Kosovo was estimated to cause 852 premature deaths and 318 new cases of chronic bronchitis each year. The Kosovar parliament is due to hold an emergency session to discuss long-term measures.”

What will the decision end up being? While a shift away from coal would be the most idealistic possibility, a simple imposition of better filters on the two power plants in question and a ban with regard to household coal burning in the city are probably the best viable options.

Similar air pollution problems, caused by similar situations — old coal-fired power plants, and the use of coal in household and building furnaces — pervade much of the region, it should be noted.

A recent study, it’s worth considering, found that a total of just 16 coal-fired power plants in the region that was formerly the country of Yugoslavia are now responsible for as much air pollution as all of the 296 power plants in the European Union are combined.

So, clearly there’s room for improvement — if strong actions aren’t taken, then the air quality there will continue to deteriorate.

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