The IQAir report shows the best and worst places for air quality in 2021

Only 222 cities out of the 6,475 analyzed had an average air quality that met the WHO standard. Three territories were found to have complied with 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 and exceeded the guidelines by at least 10 times.

The Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom ranked among the best countries for air quality, with average levels exceeding the guidelines by 1 to 2 times.

In the United States, IQAir found that air pollution exceeded WHO guidelines by 2 to 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 particles) kill too many people every year, and governments need to set stricter national standards for air quality 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 categorized them from best air quality in blue (Meets WHO PM2.5 guildline) to worst in purple (Exceeds WHO PM2.5 guideline more than 10 times). Source: IQAir
It is the first major global air quality report based on the WHO’s new annual guidelines for air pollution, which was updated in September 2021. The new guidelines halved the acceptable concentration of fine particles – or PM 2.5 – from 10 down to 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
PM 2.5 is the least polluting substance, but also among the most dangerous. When inhaled, it travels deep into the lung tissue, where it can enter the bloodstream. It comes from sources such as burning fossil fuels, dust storms and forest fires and has been linked to a number of health threats including asthma, heart disease and other respiratory diseases.
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Millions of people die every year from air quality problems. In 2016, about 4.2 million premature deaths were associated with fine particles, according to the WHO. If the 2021 guidelines had been applied that year, the WHO estimated that there could 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. Out of the more than 2,400 analyzed cities in the United States, the air in Los Angeles remained the most polluted, despite a decrease of 6% compared to 2020. Atlanta and Minneapolis experienced significant increases in the pollution, the report showed.

“The (US) dependence on fossil fuels, increasing severity of forest fires, and varying enforcement of the Clean Air Act from administration to administration have all contributed to American air pollution,” the authors wrote.

Researchers say the main sources of pollution in the United States were fossil fuel-powered transportation, energy production and forest fires, which are wreaking havoc on the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized society.

“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 on this with zero emissions, but we still do not. And it has a devastating effect on the air pollution that we see in major cities.”

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Climate change, driven by climate change, played a significant role in reducing air quality in the United States in 2021. The authors pointed to a number of fires that led to dangerous air pollution – including the Caldor and Dixie fires in California and the Bootleg fire in Oregon. which soared smoke all the way to the east coast in July.
China – which is among the countries with the worst air pollution – showed improved air quality in 2021. More than half of the Chinese cities analyzed in the report experienced lower levels of air pollution compared to the previous year. The capital Beijing, according to the report, continued a five-year trend of improved air quality due to a policy-driven reduction of polluting industries in the city.
The report also found that the Amazon rainforest, which had served as the world’s largest defender against the climate crisis, emitted more carbon dioxide than it absorbed last year. Deforestation and wildfires have threatened the critical ecosystem, polluted the air and contributed to climate change.

“This is all part of the formula that will lead to or lead to global warming.” said Hammes.

The report also revealed some inequalities: Monitoring stations are still few in some developing countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, resulting in a lack of air quality data in these regions.

“When you do not have this data, you are really in the dark,” Hammes said.

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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, after Bangladesh.

Tarik Benmarhnia, a climate change epidemiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who has studied the health effects of fire smoke, also noted that relying on monitoring stations alone 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. “But many regions do not have enough stations and alternative techniques exist.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2021 report that in addition to slowing the pace of global warming, limiting the use of fossil fuels would have the added benefit of improving air quality and public health.

Hammes said the IQAir report is an even bigger reason for the world to get used to fossil fuels.

“We have the report, we can read it, we can internalize it and really dedicate ourselves to action,” she said. “There has to be a big step towards renewable energy. We have to take drastic measures to turn the tide of global warming; otherwise the impact and the train that we are on would be irreversible.”

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