A new analysis of satellite data has revealed the world’s largest NO2 air pollution hotspots across six continents.
The data, which was taken from 1 June to 31 August this year, points to coal and transport as the two principal sources of air pollution, with Mpumalanga in South Africa topping the chart as the world’s largest NO2 hotspot across six continents.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a dangerous pollutant and also contributes to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, two of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.
“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,” said Melita Steele, senior climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace Africa.
“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.”
Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of twelve coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts owned and operated by Eskom, Greenpeace said.
It noted that the satellite data further also points to the fact that the cities of 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.
“Because South Africa’s coal-belts are hidden from view for the majority of South Africans, it can be easy to pretend that they don’t actually exist.
“The reality is that coal extraction and burning has devastating impacts on the people living in the area. This satellite data now confirms that there is nowhere to hide: Eskom’s coal addiction in Mpumalanga means that millions of people living in Johannesburg and Pretoria are also impacted by the pollution from coal,” said Steele.
The list of the largest NO2 hotspots in the world includes well known coal-fired power plants in South Africa, Germany and India, and a total of nine coal power and industrial clusters in China.
Cities such as Santiago de Chile, London, Paris, Dubai and Tehran also feature high in the ranking due to transport-related emissions.
However, Greenpeace said that compared with many other countries South Africa has relatively weak Minimum Emission Standards (MES) – allowing coal-fired power stations to emit up to 10 times more NO2 than allowed in China or Japan.
Nonetheless, the majority of Eskom’s ancient and highly polluting coal-fired power stations do not comply with these MES, it said.
“In 2015 Eskom was granted a five-year postponement from complying with MES. In 2018 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),” Greenpeace said.
“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.”