Global COVID lockdowns last year reduced air pollution, but most countries have exceeded WHO safety guidelines.
Global COVID-19 lockdowns last year reduced average levels of so-called PM2.5 pollution across the world, but only 24 of 106 countries monitored have met World Health Organization safety guidelines (WHO), according to a report based on the world’s largest database of ground-level air pollution measurements.
The partial or complete shutdown of transport and industry for months during the pandemic has reduced PM2.5 pollution around the world, including in major cities, according to the IQAir Quality Report.
Levels of life-shortening particles – released from traffic pollution and fossil fuel combustion – have fallen by 11% in Beijing, 13% in Chicago, 15% in New Delhi, 16% in London and 16% in Seoul, according to the report.
At least 60% of Indian cities were more breathable last year than in 2019, and all had cleaner air than in 2018, he said.
“Many parts of the world have seen unprecedented – but short-lived – improvements in air quality in 2020,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Energy and Clean Air Research Center ( CREA) and co-author of the report.
China and many countries in South Asia have experienced levels of PM2.5, tiny particles that can clog the lungs, several times higher than the thresholds recommended by the WHO, and in some areas the concentration was six to eight times higher.
Twenty-two of the most polluted cities in the world are in India.
Deep in the lungs
The UN says the density of PM2.5 should not exceed 25 mcg / m3 over a 24 hour period, or 10 mcg / m3 on average over a full year.
Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan have annual average PM2.5 concentrations between 77 and 47 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg / m3) of air.
The most polluted capitals in the world last year were New Delhi (84mcg / m3) and Dhaka (77mcg / m3), with Jakarta, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Hanoi and Beijing in the top 20.
About half of all European cities exceed the limits suggested by the WHO.
Air pollution levels were worsened in 2020 – tied for the hottest year on record – by climate change, the report notes.
Forest fires fueled by scorching heat waves have led to extremely high pollution levels in California, South America and Australia.
Air pollution shortens life around the world by almost three years on average and causes more than eight million premature deaths each year, according to previous studies.
The WHO calculates 4.2 million deaths from outdoor air pollution but has underestimated the impact on cardiovascular disease, according to recent research.
The average lifespan is reduced by 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India and 3.8 years in Pakistan.
In Europe, life expectancy is shortened by eight months.
PM 2.5 particles penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. In 2013, the WHO classified it as a carcinogen.
“This report underlines that urgent action is both possible and necessary,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir.
Compared to other causes of premature death, air pollution around the world kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV / AIDS and three times more than alcohol.