Wake-up call to Spain concerning the impacts of coal power plants on children´s health from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has published its Concluding Observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Spain, including a wake-up call based upon the Parallel Report submitted by the Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente (IIDMA) together with CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law) concerning the adverse impacts that Energy policies of the Spanish Government cause on the rights of children. The Committee recommends that Spain must design a well-resourced strategy to remedy the situation and regulate strictly the maximum emissions of air pollutants. This will only be achieved through an orderly coal phase-out with the aim to tackle climate change and air pollution. CO2 and other pollutant emissions from coal power plants have a direct impact on children´s health both in Spain and beyond, and they also contribute to climate change contravening other rights protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In the paragraph concerning Environmental Health, the Committee “recommends that the State party carry out an assessment of the impact of air pollution from coal-fired power plants on children´s health and on the climate as a basis for designing a well-resourced strategy to remedy the situation and regulate strictly the maximum emissions of air pollutants, including by private businesses”. The Committee shows particular concern for the lack of investment by the Spanish Government on protecting children´s rights, which are paramount rights, and strongly states that Spain must allocate more resources to comply with the recommendations. Moreover, Spain must submit a follow-up report on its compliance with these Concluding Observations by January 2023, when the next periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child will be due.

According to the study “A Dark Outlook”* published by IIDMA in 2017, emissions from coal power plants in Spain were related to 10,521 asthma and 1,233 bronchitis cases in children during 2014, in addition to associated health costs of € 1.14 million. Currently, there are 15 coal-fired power plants in Spain with an installed net capacity of 10,004 MW, emitting 105,650 tonnes of SO2, 83,723 tonnes of NOx and 4,008 tonnes of dust per year. These emissions are associated with more than 700 premature deaths. IIDMA has filed a lawsuit before the Spanish Supreme Court against the Spanish Government´s Transitional National Plan (TNP), a mechanism that allows coal power plants to emit above EU limits. This is contrary to UN´s recommendations as the CRC now requires pollutant emissions to be strictly regulated.

“Spain should seize the opportunity offered by these recommendations to consider the heavy social and environmental costs of its reliance on coal-fired power plants. As rightfully recognised by the UN Committee on the Rights of Children, children in Spain and other countries are the first victims of the government’s exception that allows coal power plants and ignores atmospheric pollution standards. Unless the government intends to place the interests of a few business actors above the rights of the country’s younger generations, Spain should join the twenty countries that recently announced that they will shut down all coal power plants in the next few years” commented Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL.

“These UN recommendations are good news for Spanish children. It is of utmost importance that a UN body is warning Spanish State in such a strong manner of the impacts of the emissions from coal-fired power plants on children´s health as well as on climate change, as it sets an important precedent. A Climate Change and Energy Transition Law as well as an orderly coal phase-out plan which includes the closure of coal power plants should be developed as soon as possible by Spanish government. In addition, we must not forget that Spain should soon elaborate a Climate and Energy Plan as established in the EU´s Winter Package. Despite being a highly vulnerable country, Spain it is not preparing itself to tackle climate change” says Ana Barreira, IIDMA Director.

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