Just a few days ago, the State of Global Air released a new report on global air quality. The organisation is a collaboration between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and is designed to keep an eye on air quality worldwide.
The latest report focused on the air quality in major cities in countries all around the world. Although not every city is accounted for, an extensive range of data from cities on every continent gives us a good insight into current air conditions and how they have changed over recent years.
While the overarching theme is not particularly new - most cities worldwide have polluted air - the report looks into the different types of pollution. Although we often consider particulate matter such as PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 to be the primary pollutant causing harm, the report found that some cities are impacted more by nitrogen dioxide pollution.
The most interesting finding, however, is that where particulate pollution tends to be highest in low and middle-income countries, nitrogen dioxide levels are high across all income levels. This is a particularly interesting finding because it’s agreed upon that high-income countries tend to have cleaner air. The findings of this report indicate, however, that only some forms of pollution (in this case, PM2.5) are lower in high-income areas.
Although this news is not positive, the report does highlight some positive changes - particularly in East Asia, where nitrogen dioxide levels have been falling in many areas. These cities tend to be high-income, but they do show that changes are possible and effective when policies are in place to combat air pollution.
Beijing and London are great examples of where air pollution has been successfully decreased. Beijing was able to lower its PM2.5 levels by an incredibly 36% in five years, thanks to more stringent government control over emission sources. London, on the other hand, managed to reduce nitrogen dioxide by the same percentage in just six months in 2019 after the release of its Ultra Low Emission Zone initiative.
Both of these successes in reducing air pollution show that air pollution isn’t something we need to deal with. When policies and initiatives are in place, we can reduce air pollution concentrations and safeguard our health. Unfortunately, for the time being, these successes are limited to high-income areas, but hopefully, the future can bring about greater change worldwide.