According to a new report, air pollution will rise to unhealthy levels worldwide in 2021.
A report by IQAir, an organization that tracks global air quality, found that average annual air pollution in each country – and 97% in cities – exceeded the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines, designed to help governments create regulations to protect public health. . .
Of the 6,475 analyzed, only 222 cities had average air quality that met WHO standards. Three regions have been found to have complied with the WHO guidelines: the French territory of New Caledonia and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were among the countries with the worst air pollution, the guidelines exceeded at least 10 times.
Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom are ranked among the best countries for air quality, with average levels exceeding the guidelines 1 to 2 times.
In the United States, IQAir found that air pollution exceeded WHO guidelines 2 to 3 times in 2021.
“This report underscores the need for governments around the world to help reduce global air pollution,” IQAir North America CEO Glory Dolphin Hams told CNN. “(Particulate matter) kills many more people every year and governments need to set stricter air quality standards and explore better foreign policies that promote improved air quality.”
Above: IQAir has analyzed the average annual air quality for more than 6,000 cities and, from their best air quality, classified as blue (combined with the WHO PM2.5 Guildline) to worst, purple (10 times higher than the WHO PM2.5 guidelines). Has done. A Interactive map Available from IQAAR.
This is the first major global air quality report based on the WHO’s new annual air pollution guidelines, updated in September 2021. The new guidelines reduce the acceptable concentration of fine particulate matter – or PM 2.5 – to 10 to 5 micrograms per cubic meter.
PM 2.5 is the smallest contaminant yet 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 wildfires, and has been linked to a number of health threats, including asthma, heart disease and other respiratory illnesses.
Air quality problems kill millions of people every year. In 2016, about 4.2 million premature deaths were associated with fine particles, according to the WHO. If the 2021 guidelines were implemented that year, the WHO found there could be about 3.3 million fewer deaths due to pollution.
IQAir analyzed pollution-monitoring stations in 6,475 cities across 117 countries, territories and territories.
In the United States, air pollution increased in 2021 compared to 2020. Of the more than 2,400 U.S. cities analyzed, Los Angeles air was the most polluted, despite a 6% decrease compared to 2020. Pollution has increased significantly in Atlanta and Minneapolis, the report shows.
“(United States) Reliance on fossil fuels, increasing wildfires, as well as various enforcement of the Clean Air Act from administration to administration have all contributed to US air pollution,” the authors wrote.
Researchers say the main sources of pollution in the United States were fossil fuel-powered transportation, energy production and fires, which wreak havoc on the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“We’re very dependent on fossil fuels, especially transportation,” said Hams, who lives a few miles from Los Angeles. “We can work smart on this with zero emissions, but we’re not doing that yet. And it’s having a devastating effect on the air pollution we’re seeing in major cities. ”
Climate change-fueled wildfires played a key role in reducing air quality in the United States in 2021. The authors point to a number of wildfires that led to dangerous air pollution – the Caldor and Dixie wildfires in California, as well as Oregon, including Bootleg Fire, which spread smoke along the east coast in July.
China – one of the worst polluting countries in the world – showed improved air quality in 2021. More than half of China’s cities analyzed in the report had lower levels of air pollution than in previous years. The capital, Beijing, has continued its five-year trend of improved air quality due to policy-driven draws from the city’s polluting industries, the report said.
The report also found that the Amazon rainforest, which served as the world’s main defender against the climate crisis, emitted more carbon dioxide than last year’s exploitation. Deforestation and wildfires threaten important ecosystems, pollute the air and contribute to climate change.
“It’s part of the whole formula that will lead or lead to global warming.” Hams said.
The report also highlights some inequalities: Monitoring stations remain scarce in Africa, South America and some developing countries in the Middle East, resulting in a lack of air quality data in those regions.
“When you don’t have that data, you’re really in the dark,” Hams said.
Hams noted that the African country Chad has been included in the report for the first time due to the improvement of its observation network. According to IQAir, air pollution in Bangladesh was the second highest in the world last year.
Tariq Benmarahnia, a climate change epidemiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who has studied the health effects of wildfire smoke, noted that relying solely on monitoring stations could lead to blind spots in these reports.
“I think it’s great that they relied on different networks and not just government sources,” Benmarahnia, who was not involved in the report, told CNN. “However, in many areas there are not enough stations and alternative strategies exist.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its 2021 report that, in addition to slowing global warming, curbing the use of fossil fuels would have additional benefits for improving air quality and public health.
Hams says the IQAAR report is even more of a reason to shut down the world’s fossil fuels.
“We’ve got the report, we can read it, we can internalize it and really commit ourselves to taking action,” he said. “We need to take a big step towards renewable energy. We need to take drastic measures to reverse the tide of global warming; Otherwise, the impact we have and the train we have is (will be) irreversible. ”