Air pollution reached unhealthy levels around the world in 2021, according to a new report.
THE report by IQAira company that monitors air quality around the world, found that the average annual air pollution in every country – and 97% of cities – exceeds the World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelineswhich have been designed to help governments develop regulations to protect public health.
Only 222 cities out of the 6,475 analyzed had an average air quality meeting the WHO standard. Three territories were found to meet WHO guidelines: the French territory of New Caledonia and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were among the most polluted countries, exceeding guidelines by at least 10 times.
Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UK ranked among the best countries for air quality, with average levels that exceeded guidelines by 1-2 times.
In the United States, IQAir found that air pollution exceeded WHO guidelines by 2-3 times in 2021.
“This report underscores the need for governments around the world to help reduce global air pollution,” Glory Dolphin Hammes, CEO of IQAir North America, told CNN. “(Fine particulate matter) kills far too many people every year and governments need to set tougher national air quality standards and explore better foreign policies that promote better air quality.”
Above: IQAir analyzed the average annual air quality for more than 6,000 cities and ranked them the best air quality, in blue (meeting the WHO PM2 guideline .5) at worst purple (exceeds WHO PM2.5 guideline by more than 10 times). A interactive map is available from IQAir.
This is the first major global air quality report based on the new WHO report annual air pollution guidelineswho were updated September 2021. The new guidelines have halved the acceptable concentration of fine particles – or PM 2.5 – from 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
PM 2.5 is the smallest pollutant but also one of the most dangerous. When inhaled, it penetrates deep into lung tissue where it can enter the bloodstream. It comes from sources such as burning fossil fuels, dust storms and wildfires, and has been linked to a number of health threats, including asthma, heart disease and other respiratory diseases.
Millions of people die each year due to air quality problems. In 2016, approximately 4.2 million premature deaths have been associated with fine particles, according to the WHO. If the 2021 guidelines had been applied that year, the WHO found that there would have been nearly 3.3 million fewer pollution-related deaths.
IQAir analyzed pollution monitoring stations in 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.
In the United States, air pollution increased in 2021 compared to 2020. over 2,400 US cities analyzed, Los Angeles air remained the most polluted, despite a 6% drop from 2020. Atlanta and Minneapolis saw significant increases in pollution, the report showed.
“The (U.S.) reliance on fossil fuels, the increasing severity of wildfires, as well as varying enforcement of the Clean Air Act across jurisdictions have all contributed to air pollution in United States,” the authors wrote.
The researchers say the main sources of pollution in the United States were fossil fuel-powered transportation, energy production and wildfires, which wreak havoc on the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“We are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, especially in terms of transportation,” said Hammes, who lives a few miles from Los Angeles. “We can act smart about this with zero emissions, but we still don’t. And that has a devastating impact on the air pollution we see in big cities.
Wildfires fueled by climate change played a significant role in reducing air quality in the United States in 2021. The authors highlighted a number of fires that led to dangerous air pollution – including including the Caldor and Dixie fires in California, as well as the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which carried smoke to the east coast in July.
China – which is among the most air polluted countries – recorded an improvement in air quality in 2021. More than half of the Chinese cities analyzed in the report recorded levels of air pollution looks lower than the previous year. The capital, Beijing, continued a five-year trend of improving air quality, according to the report, due to a political levy polluting industries in the city.
The report also found that the The Amazon forestwhich had acted as the world’s leading advocate against the climate crisis, emitted more carbon dioxide than it absorbed last year. Deforestation And Forest fires threatened the critical ecosystem, polluted the air and contributed to climate change.
“It’s all part of the formula that will or does lead to global warming.” Hammes said.
The report also exposed some inequities: monitoring stations remain scarce in some developing countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, resulting in a dearth of air quality data in these regions.
“When you don’t have that data, you’re really in the dark,” Hammes said.
Hammes noted that the African country of Chad was included in the report for the first time, due to an improvement in its surveillance network. IQAir found that the country’s air pollution was the second highest in the world last year, behind Bangladesh.
Tarik Benmarhnia, a climate change epidemiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied the health impact of wildfire smoke, also noted that relying only on monitoring stations can lead to blind spots in these reports.
“I think it’s great that they relied on different networks and not just government sources,” Benmarhnia, who was not involved in this report, told CNN. “However, many regions do not have enough stations and alternative techniques exist.”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2021 report that in addition to slowing the rate of global warming, reducing the use of fossil fuels would have the added benefit of improving air quality and public health.
Hammes said the IQAir report is one more reason for the world to wean off fossil fuels.
“We have the report, we can read it, we can internalize it and really commit to action,” she said. “There needs to be a major move towards renewable energy. We must take drastic measures to reverse the tide of global warming; otherwise, the impact and the train we are on (would be) irreversible.