By Christabel Arina

Greenpeace analysis of satellite data has revealed Mpumalanga, South Africa, as the world’s largest Nitrogen dioxide (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, South Africa topping the chart as the world’s largest NO2 hotspot across six continents even outranking areas in China, India and the U.S.

 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.

“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.

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” said Melita Steele, Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa.

The satellite data further notes that 8 million people in the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are also affected by extreme NO2 levels which blow across from Mpumalanga and into both cities due to close proximity and regular eastwinds.

“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” continued Steele.

The list of the largest NO2 hotspots in the world includes well-known coal-fired power plants in South Africa, Germany and India. Cities such as Santiago of Chile, London, Paris, Dubai and Tehran also feature high in the ranking due to transport-related emissions.

Nevertheless, Greenpeace said that compared with many other countries, South Africa has relatively weak Minimum Emission Standards (MES), which allow coal-fired power stations to emit up to 10 times more NO2 than allowed in China or Japan. Even so, the majority of Eskom’s ancient and highly polluting coal-fired power stations do not comply with these MES

She further said, “Air pollution is a global health crisis, with up to 95% of the world’s population breathing unsafe air. South Africa is a significant global hotspot with its high concentration of coal power stations and its weak air pollution standards. Government urgently needs to come up with an action plan that protects millions of people, instead of dirty coal power stations.”

She also added that the Government should set up an action plan with concrete steps, measures and deadlines to make sure that air pollution levels in high priority areas comply with existing regulations.

With hotspots across six continents, the satellite imagery shows the global extent and cross-boundary nature of the crisis. Governments must urgently step up their act and provide clean and healthy air for all.

“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.”