The report, issued Tuesday, is based on joint research by Greenpeace and American air pollution expert H. Andrew Gray.
It estimates that PM2.5 pollution – dangerous airborne particles measuring 2.5 microns in diameter – from the existing 96 coal-fired plants operating in both Guangdong and Hong Kong caused nearly 3,600 premature deaths as well as 4,000 cases of asthma in children in the Pearl Delta region during 2011.
The delta, in Guangdong province, is one of the most densely urbanized regions in the world and one of the main hubs of China's economic growth.
Guangdong is China's biggest coal importer. The region has 11 new coal-fired plants under construction, with another 11 planned.
Of the predicted 16,000 premature deaths in the next four decades due to pollution from the 22 new facilities, two-thirds would be related to strokes, the report said. The rest would be from lung cancer and heart disease.
"The cumulative impact of these new power plants on human health is simply shocking," said Zhou Rong, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, in a statement. "The Pearl River Delta region should strictly enforce the policy of no more new coal-fired and oil-fired power plants, as announced in 2009."
"Simply pushing the construction of power plants to neighboring cities outside the Pearl River Delta Region will not solve this problem. All cities of Guangdong, and Hong Kong, are interdependent in terms of air quality as well as public health," Zhou said.
A separate report released in June by the same Greenpeace research team said that about 9,900 people in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region died in 2011 due to pollution from the region's 196 coal-fired power plants and that 70,000 people suffered health problems that year, requiring them to go to the hospital.
"The only way to eliminate the health impacts associated with coal burning is to set a clear-cut coal reduction target and to jointly develop renewable energy to meet power demands," Zhou said in Tuesday's statement.
China, the world's biggest coal consumer, generates about 70 percent of its electricity from coal power and that is expected to double by 2020, indicates research by the China Environmental Forum, an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' global sustainability and resilience program.
China now has 363 coal plants slated for construction, which will increase the country's coal-fired generating capacity by nearly 75 percent, says a recent World Resources Institute report.