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Mapped: Air Pollution Levels Around the World in 2022

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Mapped: Air Pollution Levels Around the World in 2022

Mapped: Air Pollution Levels Around the World

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The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution leads to 7 million premature deaths every year.

Out of the six common air pollutants, particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns or smaller in diameter, or PM2.5, is accepted as the most harmful to human health. This is due to its prevalence in the atmosphere and the broad range of adverse health effects associated with its exposure, such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases.

With that context in mind, this visualization uses IQAir’s World Air Quality Report to map out the 2022 average PM2.5 concentrations in select major cities around the globe, expressed in micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³).

Understanding the WHO Air Pollution Guidelines

Did you know that in 2019, only 1% of the global population lived in places where WHO global air quality guidelines were met?

Designed to protect public health from the harmful effects of air pollution, the guidelines cover a range of air pollutants, including particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

The healthy limits for PM2.5 are set at an annual average of 0-5 μg/m³.

WHO Classification Annual Average PM2.5 Concentration (μg/m³)% of countries within classification, 2022*
WHO Air Quality Guideline0 - 5 9.9%
Interim Target 45.1 - 10 18.3%
Interim Target 310.1 - 15 19.8%
Interim Target 215.1 - 25 28.2%
Interim Target 125.1 - 359.9%
Exceeds Target Levels 35.1 - 50 7.6%
Exceeds Target Levels> 50 6.1%

*Percentages are calculated as a proportion of the 131 countries that had sufficient air quality data and were included in IQAir’s World Air Quality Report in 2022.

According to IQAir’s World Air Quality Report, only 13 countries or territories met the recommended concentration of PM2.5 in 2022. Among them were Australia, Finland, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Bermuda, and Guam.

Above this guideline, many countries fell within the four interim targets, while nearly 14% recorded air pollution levels that exceeded all target levels.

The Effects of Air Quality on Mortality

While it can be a little difficult to grasp what the above concentrations represent, thinking of them in terms of their effect on mortality can shed some light on their significance.

According to the WHO, non-accidental mortality rates multiply by 1.08 per 10 µg/m³ increase in PM2.5 concentration, but only up to 35 μg/m³. Above that, mortality growth rates may not be linear, resulting in many more deaths.

Here is an example to highlight what that means.

  • Say that, for a population living within the WHO PM2.5 guideline, the non-accidental mortality rate is arbitrarily set to 100 deaths for a given period.
  • If this area’s PM2.5 concentration goes up to 10 μg/m³, putting them at Interim Target 4, they would see 104 deaths in that same amount of time.
  • At Interim Target 3, where their PM2.5 concentration would be 15 μg/m³, they would see 108 deaths.
  • At Interim Target 2, they’d see 117.
  • Finally, at Interim Target 1, they’d see 126.

Beyond Interim Target 1 (above 35 μg/m³), deaths would potentially grow much faster. As of 2022, around 14% of countries report levels above this threshold, including Chad, India, Pakistan, Qatar, and Nigeria.

The State of Air Pollution Around the World

While many cities in North America and Europe have seen steady and relatively lower PM2.5 concentrations during the last few years, many cities (especially those in Asia) have been making strides in lowering their air pollution levels.

Nonetheless, many of them still record PM2.5 concentrations that are more than six times the WHO guideline.

City2022 annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)2018 annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)
🇪🇬 Cairo, Egypt47.4N/A
🇮🇳 Mumbai, India46.758.6
🇦🇪 Dubai, UAE43.755.3
🇮🇩 Jakarta, Indonesia36.245.3
🇳🇬 Lagos, Nigeria36.1N/A
🇨🇳 Beijing, China29.850.9
🇵🇪 Lima, Peru25.628
🇲🇽 Mexico City, Mexico22.119.7
🇨🇳 Guangzhou, China21.333.2
🇵🇭 Manila, Philippines14.6N/A
🇦🇷 Buenos Aires, Argentina14.212.4
🇸🇬 Singapore, Singapore 13.314.8
🇮🇹 Rome, Italy12.6N/A
🇰🇪 Nairobi, Kenya11.5N/A
🇷🇺 Moscow, Russia10.810.1
🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil10.6N/A
🇺🇸 Los Angeles, USA10.514.4
🇺🇸 New York, USA9.9N/A
🇬🇧 London, UK9.612
🇯🇵 Tokyo, Japan9.213.1
🇨🇦 Toronto, Canada8.57.8
🇨🇦 Vancouver, Canada7.6N/A
🇳🇴 Oslo, Norway6.98.2
🇿🇦 Cape Town, South Africa 6.7N/A
🇺🇸 Miami, USA 6.47.8
🇦🇺 Perth, Australia 4.9N/A
🇦🇺 Sydney, Australia3.17.6

Most parts of the world did not meet the annual WHO recommendation for clean and healthy air in 2022.

However, the cost of inaction toward cleaner air is very high. In addition to the millions of premature deaths each year, the global cost of health damages associated with air pollution currently sits at $8.1 trillion.

Unfortunately, things that are integral to our quality of life, such as industrial activities, transportation, energy production, and agricultural practices, are also the leading causes of air pollution around the world.

As such, a multi-faceted approach to lowering pollution is essential to protect lives, especially to benefit those already more vulnerable to poor air quality, such as kids and the elderly.

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How Carbon Credits Can Help Close the Climate Funding Gap

To keep a 1.5℃ world within reach, global emissions need to fall by as much as 45% by 2030, and carbon credits could help close the gap.

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Teaser image, featuring a bubble chart of assorted trillion-dollar values, for an infographic showing how carbon credits can help close the climate funding gap.

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The following content is sponsored by Carbon Streaming

How Carbon Credits Can Help Close the Climate Funding Gap

Governments around the world have committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement, but their climate pledges are insufficient. To keep a 1.5℃ world within reach, global emissions need to fall by as much as 45% by 2030.

Bold and immediate action is essential, but so are resources that will make it happen. 

In this graphic, we have partnered with Carbon Streaming to look at the role that the voluntary carbon market and carbon credits can play in closing that gap.

More Funds are Needed for Climate Finance

According to data from the Climate Policy Initiative, climate finance, which includes funds for both adaptation and mitigation, needs to increase at least five-fold, from $1.3T in 2021/2022, to an average $8.6T annually until 2030, and then to just over $10T in the two decades leading up to 2050. 

That adds up to a very large number, but consider that in 2022, $7.0T went to fossil fuel subsidies, which almost covers the annual estimated outlay. And the world has shown that when pressed, governments can come up with the money, if the global pandemic is any indication. 

Mobilizing Carbon Finance to the Developing World

But the same cannot be said of the developing world, where debt, inequality, and poverty reduce the ability of governments to act. And this is where carbon credits can play an important role. According to analyses from Ecosystem Marketplace, carbon credits help move capital from developed countries, to where funds are needed in the developing world. 

For example, in 2019, 69.2% of the carbon credits by volume in the voluntary carbon market were purchased by buyers in Europe, and nearly a third from North America. Compare that to over 90% of the volume of carbon credits sold in the voluntary carbon market in 2022 came from projects that were located outside of those two regions.  

Carbon Credits Can Complement Decarbonization Efforts

Carbon credits can also complement decarbonization efforts in the corporate world, where more and more companies have been signing up to reduce emissions. According to the 2022 monitoring report from the Science Based Targets initiative, 4,230 companies around the world had approved targets and commitments, which represented an 88% increase from the prior year. However, as of year end 2022, combined scope 1 and 2 emissions covered by science-based targets totaled approximately 2 GtCO2e, which represents just a fraction of global emissions. 

The fine print is that this is just scope 1 and 2 emissions, and doesn’t include scope 3 emissions, which can account for more than 70% of a company’s total emissions. And as these emissions come under greater and greater scrutiny the closer we get to 2030 and beyond, the voluntary carbon credit market could expand exponentially to help meet the need to compensate for these emissions.

Potential Carbon Credit Market Size in 2030

OK, but how big? In 2022, the voluntary carbon credit market was around $2B, but some analysts predict that it could grow to between $5–250 billion by 2030. 

FirmLow EstimateHigh Estimate
Bain & Company$15B$30B
BarclaysN/A$250B
Citigroup$5B$50B
McKinsey & Company$5B$50B
Morgan StanleyN/A$100B
Shell / Boston Consulting Group$10B$40B

Morgan Stanley and Barclays were the most bullish on the size of the voluntary carbon credit market in 2030, but the latter firm was even more optimistic about 2050, and predicted that the voluntary carbon credit market could grow to a colossal $1.5 trillion

Carbon Streaming is Focused on Carbon Credit Integrity

Ultimately, carbon credits could have an important role to play in marshaling the resources needed to keep the world on track to net zero by 2050, and avoiding the worst consequences of a warming world. 

Carbon Streaming uses streaming transactions, a proven and flexible funding model, to scale high-integrity carbon credit projects to advance global climate action and UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

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Learn more at www.carbonstreaming.com.

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