Air pollution rose to unhealthy levels worldwide by 2021, according to a new report.
The report by IQAir, a company that tracks global air quality, found that annual average air pollution in all countries, and in 97% of cities, exceeded the quality guidelines of the l ‘air of the World Health Organization, which were designed to help governments develop regulations to protect public health. .
Only 222 cities out of the 6,475 analyzed had average air quality that met 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 countries with the worst air pollution, exceeding guidelines by at least 10 times.
The Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom were among the best countries for air quality, with average levels exceeding the 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 too many people every year and governments need to set stricter national air quality standards and explore better foreign policies that promote better air quality.”
Above: IQAir analyzed the annual average air quality of more than 6,000 cities and ranked them from the best air quality, in blue (Meets the WHO PM2.5 guild line) to at worst, in purple (exceeds the WHO PM2.5 guideline by more than 10 times). An interactive map is available from IQAir.
It is the first global air quality report based on the WHO’s new annual air pollution guidelines, which were updated in September 2021. The new guidelines halved the acceptable concentration of particulate matter fines (or PM 2.5) from 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
PM 2.5 is the smallest pollutant but also among the most dangerous. When inhaled, it travels 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 illnesses.
Millions of people die every year from air quality problems. In 2016, around 4.2 million premature deaths were associated with fine particles, according to the WHO. If the 2021 guidelines had been implemented that year, the WHO found there could have been almost 3.3 million fewer pollution-related deaths.
IQAir analyzed pollution monitoring stations in 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.
In the US, air pollution increased in 2021 compared to 2020. Of the more than 2,400 US cities analyzed, Los Angeles’ air remained the most polluted, although it saw a decrease in 6 percent from 2020. Atlanta and Minneapolis experienced significant increases in pollution, the report showed.
“(U.S.) dependence on fossil fuels, the increased severity of wildfires, and variation in Clean Air Act enforcement from administration to administration have added to the pollution US air,” the authors wrote.
Researchers say the main sources of pollution in the US were fossil fuel-powered transportation, energy production and wildfires, which wreak havoc on the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“We’re very dependent on fossil fuels, especially for transportation,” said Hammes, who lives a few miles outside of Los Angeles. “We can be smart about this with zero emissions, but we’re not doing it yet. And that’s having a devastating impact on the air pollution we’re seeing in big cities.”
Wildfires caused by climate change played a major role in reducing air quality in the US by 2021. The authors pointed to a number of fires that caused dangerous air pollution, including the Caldor and Dixie in California, as well as the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, which sent smoke up the East Coast in July.
China, which is among the countries with the worst air pollution, showed an improvement in air quality in 2021. More than half of the Chinese cities analyzed in the report experienced lower levels of air pollution. ‘air compared to the previous year. The capital Beijing continued a five-year trend of improving air quality, the report said, due to a reduction in polluting industries driven by city policies.
The report also found that the Amazon rainforest, which had acted as the world’s main defender against the climate crisis, emitted more carbon dioxide than it absorbed last year. Deforestation and wildfires have threatened critical ecosystems, polluted the air and contributed to climate change.
“This is all part of the formula that will lead or will lead to global warming.” Hammes said.
The report also revealed 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 monitoring network. IQAir found the country’s air pollution to be 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 trusted 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 UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2021 report that, in addition to slowing the rate of global warming, curbing the use of fossil fuels would have the added benefit of improving the quality of air and public health.
Hammes said the IQAir report is even more reason for the world to get off fossil fuels.
“We have the report, we can read it, internalize it and really engage in action,” he said. “We need to take an important step towards renewable energies. We must take drastic action to reverse the tide of global warming; otherwise, the impact and the train we are on (would be) irreversible”.