• Air quality globally is at unsatisfactory levels, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Around 99% of the global population currently breathes air that exceeds WHO recommended limits.
  • Low and middle-income countries are the most exposed to pollution, it says.
  • The WHO suggests steps governments must now take, including implementing stricter vehicle emissions standards, improving public transport and cutting down on agricultural waste incineration.

Around 99% of the global population breathes air that exceeds World Health Organization's air quality limits, with people in low and middle-income countries being most exposed to pollution, according to the UN agency's latest database.

The agency's report includes data on air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide - both of which are found in fossil fuel emissions and blamed for some respiratory and heart conditions - for the years between 2010 and 2019 and covers over 6,000 cities in 117 countries.


What's the World Economic Forum doing to tackle air pollution?

Over 50% of countries have established national ambient air quality standards, but we must do more to protect citizens and our planet.

During COP26 the World Economic Forum and the Clean Air Fund launched the first global private sector initiative to tackle air pollution.

Image: Jane Burston/ World Economic Forum

Founding members of the Alliance for Clean Air are committed to measuring and decreasing their air pollution emissions, creating healthier communities around the world.

Members of the Alliance for Clean Air will:

  • Establish air pollution footprints on nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, particulate matter within 12 months
  • Pinpoint where they are being emitted to track human exposure
  • Set ambitious targets and objectives to reduce the air pollution emissions, with a clear action plan
  • Act as champions for clean air by raising awareness among employees, customers and communities about the impact of air pollution. They will also help them to reduce their exposure and support them to take action to reduce pollution
  • Use their assets innovatively to accelerate clean air solutions

Also at COP26, a practical guide for businesses on how to measure air pollution across value chains is being introduced by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and Stockholm Environment Institute, in co-operation with IKEA. The guide will support companies to understand their impact on air quality and to take necessary actions to reduce their emissions.

If your company is committed to improving air quality contact us to express interest in working with us.

Air pollution kills at least 7 million people prematurely each year.

The levels of small and hazardous airborne particles, called particulate matter, in Africa and Western Pacific regions were nearly eight times the agency's guidelines, while the lowest levels were observed in Europe, according to WHO.

In the 117 countries in which air quality was monitored, less than 1% of cities in low- and middle-income countries comply with WHO recommended pollutant thresholds. In contrast, only 17% of cities in high-income countries fall below the WHO's Air Quality Guidelines for particulate matter.

The levels of nitrogen dioxide in low-and middle-income countries were about 1.5 times higher than in high-income countries.

"The urgency of addressing the twin health challenges of air pollution and climate change underscore the pressing need to move faster towards a world that is much less dependent on fossil fuels," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Responding to rising air pollution levels, the WHO revised its annual average limits for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide last year, making them more stringent.

The latest database includes suggested steps governments can take to improve air quality, including implementing stricter vehicle emissions standards, improving public transport and cutting down on agricultural waste incineration, among others.