Published: 27.02.2019

2019 sees the start of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new 5-year strategic plan. The top issues identified by the WHO and its health partners are air pollution and climate change. The WHO is right to make a strong interconnection between these two core issues, thus considering them as a challenge which goes hand in hand.

The dual challenge of simultaneously reducing air pollutants and carbon emissions affects everyone, transcending geographical borders and economic sectors. Air pollution does not distinguish between developing and developed markets. In Europe, the European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates that approximately 500,000 people die prematurely each year due to air pollution.

Air pollution does not only originate from vehicles operating in urban centres, although this is where policy makers tend to place their focus. According to the EEA, across Europe in 2016, 178 air quality measurement stations – located in rural areas – reported dangerous PM10 levels (above 50 μg / m3) for more than 3 consecutive days. Nearly half of these stations are located in only 5 countries: Germany, Poland, France, Belgium and Italy (88 out of 178), which consume more than 60% of Europe’s coal and oil used for residential heating.

With this backdrop, the policy ambition adopted by Belgium, France and the United Kingdom to phase out heating oil and coal to support the decarbonisation objectives, will significantly contribute to delivering major benefits in terms of air quality and health in rural areas. The European Commission’s 2050 long-term strategy for greenhouse gas emissions also foresees the phasing out of oil and coal heating in order to achieve deep decarbonisation.

Although the political will can be recognised, the strategy to replace heating oil and coal in off-grid areas for carbon and air quality benefits needs to be carefully considered. Both fuels have embedded supply chains and a significant market share in rural areas. Additionally, rural buildings tend to be older, less energy efficient and are the predominant model in case of energy poverty.

Eventually, a mix of solutions will be crucial to replace heating oil and coal among the 40.7 million households in off-grid rural areas in Europe. Therefore, debate is required to identify these solutions and place rural buildings high on the agenda in addressing air pollution and climate change.

To complement this discussion, the FREE initiative commissioned an economic analysis to identify optimal ways to phase out heating oil and coal in Europe by 2050.

The study found that a deep and cost effective decarbonisation is possible through a mix of biomass (12%), LPG (44%) and heat pumps (44%), adjusted according to the characteristics of buildings and geographic locations. Today, LPG is a readily available lower carbon and cost effective alternative to heating oil and coal, used in existing older and less energy efficient houses.

For further information, you may peruse the summary infographic of the aforementioned study here. Equally, please do feel free to reach out to us.