Only in 222 cities out of 6475 analyzed did the average air quality meet the WHO standard. Three territories were found to be in line with WHO recommendations: the French territory of New Caledonia and the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were among the countries with the worst air pollution, exceeding the norm by at least 10 times.
The Scandinavian countries, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UK ranked among the top countries for air quality with average levels 1-2 times higher than the guidelines.
In the United States, IQAir found air pollution in 2021 to be 2 to 3 times higher than WHO guidelines.
“This report highlights the need for governments around the world to help reduce global air pollution,” Glory Dolphin Hammes, CEO of IQAir North America, told CNN. “(Particulate matter) kills too many people every year, and governments need to set stricter national air quality standards and explore better foreign policies to improve air quality.”
IQAir analyzed pollution monitoring stations in 6475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.
“(The United States’) dependence on fossil fuels, increased wildfires, and administration-to-administration varying enforcement of the Clean Air Act have all exacerbated US air pollution,” the authors write.
Researchers say the main sources of pollution in the US have been fossil fuel-powered vehicles, energy production and wildfires, which are hurting the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“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 with zero emissions, but we still don’t. And that has a devastating effect on the air pollution we see in big cities.”
“It’s all part of a formula that will or is leading to global warming.” Hammes said.
The report also reveals some disparities: there are still few monitoring stations in some developing countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, leading to a lack of air quality data in these regions.
“When you don’t have these 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 improvements in its monitoring network. IQAir found that the country’s air pollution was the second highest in the world last year after Bangladesh.
Tariq Benmarnia, a climate change epidemiologist at the Scripps Oceanographic Institution who has studied the health effects of wildfire smoke, also noted that using only 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,” Benmarchnia, who was not involved in this report, told CNN. “However, there are not enough stations in many regions and there are alternative methods.”
Hammes said the IQAir report is another reason for the world to move away from fossil fuels.
“We have the report, we can read it, we can digest it and really commit ourselves to action,” she said. “We need to take a serious step towards renewable energy sources. We need to take decisive action to reverse the tide of global warming; otherwise the impact and the train we are on (will be) irreversible.”