Greenpeace identifies top SO2 emitters

A report conducted by Greenpeace has identified the top 25 sulphur dioxide (SO2) emitting countries, and some of the world’s prominent coal-holdouts and G20 members make up the top spots. Greenpeace emphasizes the danger of air pollution, claiming that 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where the air is unsafe. The study was conducted by observing satellite data to reveal where SO2 hotspots were located, due to the lack of emissions record keeping in some countries with the worst air quality. The study indicates that power plants and refineries burning coal and oil are responsible for two thirds of the polluting SO2 emissions tracked by NASA satellites.

While most of the public discussion surrounding emissions has revolved around carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, Greenpeace describes SO2 as a significant contributor to air pollution, and a factor in the production of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), “the air pollutant with the largest public health impact because it is a cocktail of all different kinds of pollution ranging from heavy metals to secondary gaseous pollutants such as sulphates and nitrates”. Pollutants like these put the public at risk for “everything from dementia and fertility problems to reduced intelligence as well as heart and lung disease”.

According to Greenpeace, the greatest source of atmospheric SO2 is the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, especially coal. Regions with high levels of fossil fuel combustion and ore smelting contributed 60 per cent of the world’s SO2 emissions in 2018, with coal combustion representing more than half of that figure, at 31 per cent. The figures for coal were second only to SO2 emitted by volcanoes, a natural source of pollutants, which contributed 40 per cent.

A number of G20 member countries found themselves on Greenpeace’s list of top 25 SO2 emitters including India (who took the top spot), Russia, China (second and third respectively), Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the US, Turkey and Australia. Australia has been the subject of controversy in the past week over its refusal to allow mentions of coal in its drafts of a Pacific Island Forum communique, reported on here, despite the requests and concerns of other Pacific Island leaders. Greenpeace described Australia’s SO2 levels as globally significant, and pointed out the country’s lack of legislation on emissions limits. This places Australia’s system of pollution behind places like the US and the EU, and notably China, a regional competitor with Australia speculated to be a large factor in Australia’s unwillingness to regulate its coal industry.

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