Lethal air pollution high in 2020
Deadly small particle pollution in four of five nations exceeded World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations last year despite Covid lockdowns, according to a report released yesterday.
The partial or complete shutdown of transport and industry for months at a time in 2020 reduced average levels of so-called PM2.5 pollution across the world, including in major cities, the IQAir quality report found.
Concentrations of the life-shortening particles -- cast off by traffic pollution and burning fossil fuels -- dropped 11 percent in Beijing, 13 percent in Chicago, 15 percent in New Delhi, 16 percent in London, and 16 percent in Seoul.
At least 60 percent of India's cities were more breathable last year than in 2019, and all of them had cleaner air than in 2018.
"Many parts of the world experienced unprecedented -- but short-lived -- improvements in air quality in 2020," said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and co-author of the report.
"This meant tens of thousands of avoided deaths from air pollution."
But only 24 of 106 countries monitored met WHO safety guidelines, said the report, based on the world's largest database of ground-level air pollution measurements.
China and many South Asian nations experienced PM2.5 pollution several time greater than WHO recommended thresholds, and in some regions the concentration was six to eight times higher.
Twenty-two of the world's more polluted cities are in India. Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan averaged annual PM2.5 concentrations between 77 and 47 microgrammes per cubic metre (mcg/m3) of air.
The UN says PM2.5 density should not top 25 mcg/m3 in any 24-hour period, or 10 mcg/m3 averaged across an entire year.
The most polluted capital cities in the world last year were New Delhi (84 mcg/m3) and Dhaka (77), with Jakarta, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Hanoi and Beijing all in the top 20.
Air pollution shortens lives worldwide by nearly three years on average, and causes more than eight million premature deaths annually, earlier studies have found. The WHO calculates 4.2 million deaths from outdoor air pollution.