Greenpeace has called on the National Union of Mineworkers and other unions to engage in renewable energy strategies after the union called the organization "reckless" to release a report that found that Mpumalanga air was the most polluted in the world.
"People's lives are on the line and air pollution is apparently a public health crisis that can no longer be ignored," said Greenpeace Africa, senior climate and energy campaign manager Melita Steele in a statement.
Steele's comments come in the wake of the criticism level of Greenpeace by NUM, which condemned a new report from the organization as a "clear" campaign to force the government to shut down power plants and coal mines in Mpumalanga.
The report, released by the organization last week, found that Mpumalanga Province has the highest level of air pollution in the world, increasing nitrogen dioxide levels across six continents.
READ MORE: Mpumalanga tops the world's nitrogen dioxide air pollution chart
The results were made by Greenpeace by analyzing data from the European Space Agency's Sentinel 5P satellite showing air pollution levels over six continents from June 1 to August 31, 2018. According to Greenpeace, coal mines, transport and Eskom's 12 coal power plants have been identified as the major sources of air pollution in the province .
In a press release, the union's Highveld region Greenpeace said "do not have the interests of the poor people and the workers who will be affected by the closure of the 12 power plants and coal mines in Mpumalanga."
But Steele says it is in all South Africa's interest to "breathe clean air".
"It is especially important for our children who are most vulnerable to the devastating health effects of breathing polluted air," Steele said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists air pollution as one of the biggest burdens on children's health.
According to the WHO survey, released last week, 93% of the world's population is under the age of 15 in air "so polluted that it puts its health and development at a serious risk".
By 2016, air pollution killed 600,000 children around the world, and it is responsible for one of 10 deaths of children under five years, the WHO said.
READ MORE: The world's children wear brown of toxic air
Nitric oxide is a compound that contributes to the formation of small particles called PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) and ground-level ozone. These are classified as dangerous types of air pollutants. Sustainable exposure to high PM2.5 levels and ozone leads to a range of long-term health conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
"To expose the truth about air pollution in South Africa is a must. What would be reckless would be to hold back information from Mpumalanga people … about the devastating pollution they are exposed to and pretend there are no alternatives," added Steele .
But the worry that South Africa is turning to renewable energy sources will cost people their jobs are profound – especially after energy minister Jeff Radebes is 56 billion agreements with independent power producers.
Last week, in the light of its findings, Greenpeace proposed that no new coal power plants be included in the National Electricity Plan, that the Kusile coal power plant in Mpumalanga should be discontinued and that half of the current coal power plants would be released before 2030.
"If power stations and coal mines are closed in Mpumalanga, several cities, including Witbank, will be ghost cities … If power plants and mines turn off, the economy in our country will collapse and the people will remain in the dark," Cosatu-adjusted NUM said this week.
National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa) – the largest union in the competing federation of South African Federation of Trade Unions – has adopted a tough renewable prokol position in recent months.
In March, Numsa tried to get an urgent interdict against the IPP agreement saying that these contracts would be "harmful to the Mpumalanga and the country as a whole" because it would mean that Eskom will demand less coal-fired electricity.
"This is likely to lead to the closure of coal-fired power plants, and the consequence will be that at least 30,000 working-class families will suffer because of work losses," the Union said at that time.
The union has since said that it has "no ideological attitude towards renewable energy", but that a transition from coal-fired power must be in the interests of workers.
Steele concluded Greenpeace's statement by inviting NUM and other unions to engage in the organization in a transition that would "create green jobs and protect people and workers in the sector".