Despite some improvements to air quality in 2020, the majority of countries continued to exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) levels for particulate matter (PM2.5), according to the new World Air Quality report.
The report, which is based on data from IQAir’s global air quality platform revealed that 84% of all monitored countries observed improvements to air quality, most of which can be explained by measures introduced to slow the spread of Covid-19.
However, of these countries, only 24 out of 106 met the WHO guidelines for PM2.5 pollution.
In Europe, around half of all cities exceeded the WHO target, with the highest levels seen in Bosnia Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.
In the U.S, average PM2.5 pollution levels actually rose by 6.7% in 2020.
According to the report, record-breaking wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington were largely to blame and meant that in 2020 38% of American cities did not meet the WHO’s guideline for annual PM2.5 levels, this compares to 21% in 2019.
All Indian cities that were monitored observed air quality improvements. However, India continues to take the lead when it comes to air pollution, with 22 of the top 30 most polluting cities globally located in India.
Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir, said: ‘The year 2020 brought an unexpected dip in air pollution. In 2021, we will likely see an increase in air pollution due to human activity, again. We hope this report will highlight that urgent action is both possible and necessary to combat air pollution, which remains the world’s greatest environmental health threat.
‘While many cities recorded temporary improvements in air quality due to lockdowns, the health impact of burning fossil fuels remained severe. Unfortunately, Delhi continued to be the most polluted capital city in the world in 2020. To see real, long-term
improvements in air quality, governments must prioritize clean energy sources such as wind and solar and promote low cost, carbon-neutral and accessible transport.’
Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), who also contributed to the report: ‘Many parts of the world experienced unprecedented, but short-lived, improvements in air quality in 2020, as restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in fossil fuel consumption,
‘This improved air quality meant tens of thousands of avoided deaths from air pollution. By transitioning to clean energy and clean transport we can realize the same improvements in a sustained way.’