Many countries and cities across the world have significant car reduction policies that have benefited their overall air pollution levels. London’s own ULEZ has accounted for a 44 per cent reduction in roadside air pollution, according to research released by the London Assembly in 2020.
Air pollution is measured by how many micrograms of miniscule particles, called PM2.5, which are invisible to the naked eye and “small enough to pass through the lungs, into the bloodstream, and into your organs”, according to the British Lung Foundation.
How many countries have levels of air pollution over the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limits of five micrograms per year? And which country is leading the way in keeping its air pollution levels down?
The Big Issue has used data from State of Global Air, which is a project that provides a report and interactive website analysing the trends in air quality for every country in the world. The report is produced by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
It provides comprehensive and consistent air quality data for 2019, making it the best source to compare air pollution levels in different countries.
How much air pollution does the UK have?
According to State of Global Air, the UK had an average of 10.1 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 in 2019 across the country.
This is twice the WHO recommended limit but many areas across the country average significantly higher levels.
A report published by climate organisation Friends of the Earth in October 2022 found 97 per cent of neighbourhoods in England and Wales are between one and two times more polluted than the WHO guidelines.
Friends of the Earth and other climate organisations have been calling for the government to lower air pollution in all areas of the UK to 10 micrograms of PM2.5 by 2030.
As the climate crisis continues, the US is experiencing more wildfires, extreme weather, and increased flooding. The Natural Resources Defence Council previously wrote progress has been made over air quality in recent years but climate change “will make it harder in the future to meet pollution standards”.
How much air pollution does Scandinavia have?
All Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) have relatively low levels of air pollution, though all are higher than the WHO’s recommended limits.
Denmark averaged 9.8 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre in 2019, nearly twice the WHO limit. Air pollution in Denmark comes mainly from wood burning stoves and boilers, vehicles, ships, and energy production.
The country has continued to invest heavily in reducing emissions from all of those sources.
Norway averaged 6.6 micrograms of pollution per cubic metre in 2019, but the country is aiming to reduce this significantly by getting rid of fossil fuels. As part of the country’s Climate Act, the country hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2040.
This reduction was achieved through major regulations to phase out energy from coal-production as well as strict guidelines for emissions from cars and trucks.
Which country has the highest air pollution levels?
India has the highest levels of air pollution, averaging 83 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre in 2019.
According to Bloomberg, over 90 per cent of India’s population lives in areas where pollution levels are significantly higher than the WHO guidelines – “coal-fired power plants, factories, and vehicles are among the major sources of pollution”.
Nearly 2 million people in India are estimated to have died in 2019 as a result of air pollution, Bloomberg reported, while in 2020, India had nine of the world’s 10 most polluted cities.
Those nine cities had average annual pollution levels at least 18 times higher than WHO recommended limits. Population sizes in each city range from 5,000 people to over 2 million people.
In comparison, London’s pollution levels were only 2.8 times higher than the recommended limit in 2019 with a population of close to nine million people.
Which country has the lowest air pollution levels?
Finland has the lowest air pollution levels. In 2017, Finland’s annual average of PM2.5 was 5.6 micrograms – only slightly higher than the WHO’s limit.
Analysis published by WHO in 2018 found Finland had the cleanest air in the world due to its strong environmental regulations.
According to the official website for Finland, legislation has been introduced to curb emissions from large industrial facilities and they have “made progress in controlling emissions from agriculture, transport, and homes”.
But, it said there is “still a need to reduce airborne emissions of carbon dioxide, noise, and particles from traffic”.
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