According to the IQAir World Air Quality Report, 97% of Global Cities Failed to Meet the Most Recent Who Air Quality Guidelines

The 2021 World Air Quality Report finds that only three percent of cities and no single country met the latest World Health Organization's (WHO) PM2.5 annual air quality guideline. The report analyzes PM2.5 air pollution measurements from air monitoring stations in 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.

IQAir's 2021 World Air Quality Report is the first major global air quality report based on updated annual WHO air quality guideline for PM2.5. The new guideline was released in September 2021 and cut the existing annual PM2.5 guideline value from 10 µg/m3 to 5 µg/m3.

Fine particle pollution, known as PM2.5, is commonly accepted to be the most harmful, widely monitored air pollutant and has been found to be a major contributing factor to health effects such as asthma, stroke, heart and lung diseases. PM2.5 leads to millions of premature deaths every year.

Key Findings:
  • In 2021, no country met the most recent WHO guideline for PM2.5 air quality.
  • Only New Caledonia, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico met the new WHO PM2.5 air quality standard.
  • Only 222 of the report's 6,475 global cities met the new WHO PM2.5 criteria.
  • Annual PM2.5 values in 93 cities in the report exceeded ten times the WHO PM2.5 guideline.
  • Only 12 (7%) of the 174 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean meet the WHO PM2.5 standard.
  • Only one (1.5 percent) of 65 African cities met the new yearly WHO PM2.5 standard.
  • Only four (0.2 percent) of 1,887 Asian cities met the new WHO PM2.5 guideline.
  • Only 55 (3%) of Europe's 1,588 cities met the WHO PM2.5 limit.

The analysis examined 2,406 localities in the United States and discovered that average PM2.5 concentrations increased from 9.6 g/m3 in 2020 to 10.3 g/m3 in 2021. Los Angeles was the most polluted large city in the United States. However, the city of angels reported a 6% reduction in PM2.5 pollution on a year-over-year basis in comparison to 2020.

In 2021, the top five most polluted countries were:

  1. Bangladesh
  2. Chad
  3. Pakistan
  4. Tajikistan
  5. India

For the second consecutive year, New Delhi (India) is the world's most polluted capital city, followed by Dhaka (Bangladesh), N'Djamena (Chad), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), and Muscat (Oman).

In 2021, China's air quality continued to improve. Over half of the cities in China included in the research experienced a decrease in air pollution levels from the previous year. Pollution levels in Beijing's capital city maintained a nine-year trend of improving air quality, owing to emission controls and the shutdown of coal power plants and other high-emission businesses.

In 2021, Central and South Asia had among of the world's worst air quality, with 47 of the world's 50 most polluted cities located there. Zhezqazghan and Chu were the only two cities that met the new WHO PM2.5 guideline (Kazakhstan).

In Africa, South America, and the Middle East, air quality monitoring is scarce, despite improvements made by low-cost air quality sensors frequently run by non-profit organizations and citizen scientists.

“It is a shocking fact that no major city or country is providing safe and healthy air to their citizens according to the latest World Health Organization air quality guideline, This report underscores just how much work remains to be done to ensure that everyone has safe, clean and healthy air to breathe. The time for action is now."

- Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir.

"We understand better than ever before how air pollution damages our health and economies. This report is a wakeup call, revealing how people worldwide are denied access to clean air. Particulate matter air pollution is produced through burning fuels including coal, oil and fossil gas, unsustainable development, and agricultural activities. Addressing the air pollution crisis requires the development of renewable energy resources and clean-powered, accessible public transport. Moreover, solutions to air pollution are also solutions to the climate crisis. Breathing clean air should be a basic human right, not a privilege,"

- Greenpeace India Campaign manager Avinash Chanchal.


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