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.”
IQAir analyzed pollution monitoring stations in 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.
“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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”