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Visualized: Air Quality and Pollution in 50 Capital Cities



A chart comparing air quality in 50 capital cities around the world by average PM2.5 concentrations in 2022.

Comparing Air Quality and Pollution in 50 Capital Cities

We know bad air quality when we breathe it in—but how does it measure and compare across different cities?

To assess air quality, agencies measure the amount of particulate matter in an area to arrive at a number the resident population is breathing in over a period of time.

ℹ️ Airborne particulate matter (PM) is a complex mix of solids and aerosols and is defined by diameter for regulatory purposes. Particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less (PM10) are inhalable and can induce adverse health effects.

In this case, Planet Anomaly visualized the concentration of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) in 50 select capital cities across the globe, using data from IQAir’s 2022 World Air Quality Report.

The report applied population-based adjustments to standardize its results and calculated an annual average of the data. If a city exceeded the WHO safety guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³) for annual average PM2.5 levels, it implied potential health risks for its residents.

Ranked: Capital Cities With the Best and Worst Air Quality

At the top of the list with the best air quality, Canberra, the capital of Australia, had an average PM2.5 level of 2.8 μg/m³ in 2022. Vehicle emissions and dust storms are the few sources of air pollutants in the city.

However, while Canberra did well in 2022, it had some of the worst air quality in 2020 when bushfire smoke blackened the skies.

Here’s the full list of all 116 capital cities measured by IQAir’s report, ranked by air quality from best to worst.

RankCityCountryRegion2022 Average
PM2.5 Concentration
1Canberra🇦🇺 AustraliaOceania2.8
2Hamilton🇧🇲 BermudaNorth America3.0
3Reykjavik🇮🇸 IcelandEurope3.3
4San Juan🇵🇷 Puerto RicoNorth America3.3
5Noumea🇳🇨 New CaledoniaOceania3.5
6Saint George’s🇬🇩 GrenadaCentral America3.8
7Tallinn🇪🇪 EstoniaEurope4.8
8Port of Spain🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoCentral America5.0
9Helsinki🇫🇮 FinlandEurope5.5
10Cape Town🇿🇦 South AfricaAfrica6.7
11Ottawa🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America6.8
12Stockholm🇸🇪 SwedenEurope6.8
13Oslo🇳🇴 NorwayEurope6.9
14Paramaribo🇸🇷 SurinameSouth America7.0
15Dublin🇮🇪 IrelandEurope7.1
16La Paz🇧🇴 BoliviaSouth America7.3
17Lisbon🇵🇹 PortugalEurope7.5
18San Jose🇨🇷 Costa RicaCentral America7.9
19Phnom Penh🇰🇭 CambodiaAsia8.3
20Vaduz🇱🇮 LiechtensteinEurope8.3
21Copenhagen🇩🇰 DenmarkEurope8.7
22Luanda🇦🇴 AngolaAfrica8.8
23Managua🇳🇮 NicaraguaCentral America8.9
24Panama🇵🇦 PanamaCentral America9.0
25Tokyo🇯🇵 JapanAsia9.2
26Madrid🇪🇸 SpainEurope9.5
27Kyiv🇺🇦 UkraineEurope9.5
28London🇬🇧 UKEurope9.6
29Washington🇺🇸 U.S.North America9.8
30Taipei🇹🇼 TaiwanAsia9.9
31Amsterdam🇳🇱 NetherlandsEurope10.1
32Tegucigalpa🇭🇳 HondurasCentral America10.2
33Vienna🇦🇹 AustriaEurope10.5
34Bern🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEurope10.5
35Brussels🇧🇪 BelgiumEurope10.6
36Moscow🇷🇺 RussiaEurope10.8
37Budapest🇭🇺 HungaryEurope11.2
38Montevideo🇺🇾 UruguaySouth America11.3
39Nairobi🇰🇪 KenyaAfrica11.5
40Podgorica🇲🇪 MontenegroEurope11.8
41Prague🇨🇿 Czech RepublicEurope11.9
42Berlin🇩🇪 GermanyEurope12.6
43Rome🇮🇹 ItalyEurope12.6
44Paris🇫🇷 FranceEurope12.7
45Georgetown🇬🇾 GuyanaSouth America12.7
46Singapore🇸🇬 SingaporeAsia13.3
47San Salvador🇸🇻 El SalvadorCentral America13.4
48Bratislava🇸🇰 SlovakiaEurope13.4
49Pristina🇽🇰 KosovoEurope13.7
50Ankara🇹🇷 TürkiyeAsia14.0
51Buenos Aires🇦🇷 ArgentinaSouth America14.2
52Hong Kong🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARAsia14.4
53Tirana🇦🇱 AlbaniaEurope14.5
54Vilnius🇱🇹 LithuaniaEurope14.5
55Metro Manila🇵🇭 PhilippinesAsia14.6
56Bogota🇨🇴 ColombiaSouth America15.1
57Warsaw🇵🇱 PolandEurope15.3
58Kinshasa🇨🇩 DRCAfrica15.5
59Ljubljana🇸🇮 SloveniaEurope16.2
60Tbilisi🇬🇪 GeorgiaEurope16.3
61Nicosia🇨🇾 CyprusEurope16.4
62Bucharest🇷🇴 RomaniaEurope17.1
63Kuala Lumpur🇲🇾 MalaysiaAsia17.6
64Algiers🇩🇿 AlgeriaAfrica17.8
65Bangkok🇹🇭 ThailandAsia18.0
66Seoul🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia18.3
67Guatemala City🇬🇹 GuatemalaCentral America18.5
68Baku🇦🇿 AzerbaijanAsia18.9
69Sofia🇧🇬 BulgariaEurope19.1
70Athens🇬🇷 GreeceEurope19.2
71Tel Aviv-Yafo🇮🇱 IsraelMiddle East19.5
72Dakar🇸🇳 SenegalAfrica20.4
73Colombo🇱🇰 Sri LankaAsia20.9
74Astana🇰🇿 KazakhstanAsia21.4
75Ashgabat🇹🇲 TurkmenistanAsia21.6
76Mexico City🇲🇽 MexicoNorth America22.1
77Belgrade🇷🇸 SerbiaEurope22.1
78Zagreb🇭🇷 CroatiaEurope22.4
79Abidjan🇨🇮 Ivory CoastAfrica22.5
80Chisinau🇲🇩 MoldovaEurope22.6
81Antananarivo🇲🇬 MadagascarAfrica23.7
82Yangon🇲🇲 MyanmarAsia24.3
83Lusaka🇿🇲 ZambiaAfrica24.6
84Lima🇵🇪 PeruSouth America25.6
85Santiago🇨🇱 ChileSouth America25.8
86Skopje🇲🇰 North MacedoniaEurope26.6
87Vientiane🇱🇦 LaosAsia27.6
88Bishkek🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanAsia29.0
89Beijing🇨🇳 ChinaAsia29.8
90Accra🇬🇭 GhanaAfrica30.1
91Ulaanbaatar🇲🇳 MongoliaAsia30.6
92Addis Ababa🇪🇹 EthiopiaAfrica31.3
93Yerevan🇦🇲 ArmeniaAsia31.4
94Sarajevo🇧🇦 Bosnia HerzegovinaEurope32.4
95Tashkent🇺🇿 UzbekistanAsia33.5
96Tehran🇮🇷 IranAsia36.1
97Jakarta🇮🇩 IndonesiaAsia36.2
98Kampala🇺🇬 UgandaAfrica39.6
99Hanoi🇻🇳 VietnamAsia40.1
100Islamabad🇵🇰 PakistanAsia40.6
101Kathmandu🇳🇵 NepalAsia40.7
102Doha🇶🇦 QatarMiddle East41.8
103Kigali🇷🇼 RwandaAfrica44.0
104Khartoum🇸🇩 SudanAfrica44.6
105Riyadh🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaMiddle East46.2
106Abuja🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica46.5
107Cairo🇪🇬 EgyptAfrica47.4
108Dushanbe🇹🇯 TajikistanAsia47.7
109Abu Dhabi🇦🇪 UAEMiddle East48.0
110Kuwait City🇰🇼 KuwaitMiddle East57.5
111Ougadougou🇧🇫 Burkina FasoAfrica63.0
112Dhaka🇧🇩 BangladeshAsia65.8
113Manama🇧🇭 BahrainMiddle East66.6
114Baghdad🇮🇶 IraqAsia86.7
115New Delhi🇮🇳 IndiaAsia89.1
116N’Djamena🇹🇩 ChadAfrica89.7

Hamilton, Bermuda (3.8 μg/m³) and Reykjavik, Iceland (3.3 μg/m³) rank second and third respectively, followed by three more capitals on island nations. In fact, nine of the top 10 capitals are situated directly on a coastline and take advantage of ocean breezes that can act as air filters.

Ranked 8th, the Port of Spain (capital of Trinidad & Tobago) is the last city whose air quality is considered safe (5.0 μg/m³) by the WHO.

From a broader perspective, fewer than 10% of all countries have air quality that meets safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the list with the worst air quality, Chad’s capital city N’Djamena, recorded a PM2.5 concentration of nearly 90 μg/m³ per day in 2022—almost 18x the recommended WHO safety guideline.

Air Quality Correlates With Countries’ Income Levels

Perhaps the most striking feature of the rankings is how air quality worsens with countries that are in the low and middle-income categories and improves in high income countries.

As an example, compare the distribution of the ranks of capital cities in Asia (generally lower and middle income countries) versus capitals in Europe (general high income countries).

Air Quality RanksCities in AsiaCities in Europe
Top 203.33%20.51%

The majority of European capital cities are ranked 20–60 versus Asian capitals which are mostly ranked 60–100.

Lower and middle income countries have larger structural economic concerns and many of them are still in the process of transitioning away from polluting materials that affect air quality.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Visualizing All the World’s Carbon Emissions by Country

China, India, and the U.S. together account for roughly half of the world’s CO₂. This visual breaks down all carbon emissions by country.



all carbon emissions by country in 2022

Visualizing All The World’s Carbon Emissions By Country

The greenhouse effect, essential for sustaining Earth’s life-friendly temperatures, has been intensified by burning fossil fuels.

This amplification of the natural greenhouse effect has led to significant alterations to the planet’s climate system.

The graphic above uses data from the Global Carbon Atlas to explore which countries contribute the most to CO₂ emissions.

Ranked: Global CO₂ Emissions by Country

According to the Global Carbon Atlas, the world’s top polluters are China, India, and the U.S., which accounted for 52% of the world’s CO₂ in 2021.

These countries are also the biggest in terms of population.

RankCountryRegionTotal Emissions (%)
#1🇨🇳 China Asia30.9%
#2🇺🇸 U.S.North America13.5%
#3🇮🇳 India Asia7.3%
#4🇷🇺 Russia Europe4.7%
#5🇯🇵 JapanAsia2.9%
#6🇮🇷 Iran Asia2.0%
#7🇩🇪 GermanyEurope1.8%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaOther1.8%
#9🇮🇩 Indonesia Asia1.7%
#10🇰🇷 South Korea Asia1.7%
#11🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America1.5%
#12🇧🇷 Brazil South America1.3%
#13🇹🇷 TürkiyeEurope1.2%
#14🇿🇦 South AfricaAfrica1.2%
#15🇲🇽 Mexico North America1.1%
#16🇦🇺 Australia Oceania 1.1%
#17🇬🇧 UKEurope0.9%
#18🇮🇹 Italy Europe0.9%
#19🇵🇱 PolandEurope 0.9%
n/a🌐 Rest of WorldOther21.7%

In terms of CO₂ emissions per capita (metric tons), the U.S. is relatively high at 15.32, while China and India rank lower at 7.44 and 1.89, respectively.

Historically, the U.S. has been the largest carbon emitter, releasing 422 billion metric tons of CO₂ into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. This is equivalent to almost a quarter of all CO₂ produced from fossil fuels and industrial activities.

Given their massive populations and the fact that countries typically increase their emissions as they become more developed, China and India may continue to grow their shares even further. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that India’s share of global emissions could rise to 10% by 2030.

All of these major contributors of carbon to the atmosphere have set goals to reduce emissions over the next decades. While the U.S. targets net-zero emissions by 2050, China aims for carbon neutrality by 2060 and India recently set a target of 2070.

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