Average air quality in only 222 of the 6,475 cities analyzed met World Health Organization standards. Three territories were found to comply with WHO guidelines: the French territories of New Caledonia, 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.
Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom rank among the best countries for air quality, with average levels exceeding guidelines 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 particulates) are killing far too many people each year, and governments need to set stricter national air quality standards and explore better foreign policies that improve air quality.”
IQAir analyzed pollution monitoring stations in 6,475 cities across 117 countries, regions and territories.
“(U.S.) reliance on fossil fuels, the increased intensity of wildfires, as well as the implementation of the Clean Air Act from one administration to another, are all factors that increase air pollution in the United States,” the authors wrote.
Researchers say the main sources of pollution in the United States have been fossil-fueled transportation, energy production and wildfires, which are wreaking havoc on the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“We are very 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 without emissions, but we still don’t. This has a devastating effect on the air pollution we see in big cities.”
“This is all part of the formula that will or will lead to global warming.” Hammes said.
The report also revealed some inequalities: Monitoring stations are still scarce in some developing countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, resulting in a scarcity of air quality data in those regions.
“When you don’t have that data, you’re really in ignorance,” Hams said.
Hammes noted that the African country of Chad was included in the report for the first time, due to the improvement of its monitoring network. IQAir found that the country’s air pollution was the second highest in the world last year, after Bangladesh.
Tariq Ben Marhnia, 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 on government sources,” Ben Mhrhania, who was not involved in this report, told CNN. “However, many areas do not have enough stations and alternative technologies do exist.”
Hammes said the IQAir report is one more reason the world is ditching fossil fuels.
“We got the report, we can read it, we can absorb it and really devote ourselves to taking action,” she said. “There has to be a major move toward renewable energy. We need to take drastic action in order to reverse global warming; otherwise, the impact and the train we’re in (will be) irreversible.”