Pollution

Covid-19 measures helped improve global air quality, says report

The PM2.5 levels in Paris dropped by 17 percent in 2020.
The PM2.5 levels in Paris dropped by 17 percent in 2020. Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

A new report out on global air quality notes a global emissions reduction, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions and social distancing measures, including in Paris. The result? Better air quality overall, according to the 2020 report published by IQAir.

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Based on the data from 106 countries, the report from a Swiss-based air quality technology company tracked data that includes particulate matter pollutants which measure less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5). 

Some of the cities that witnessed a significant drop in the PM2.5 levels include Paris (-17 %), London (-16%), Seoul (-16%), Delhi (-15 %), Chicago (-13 %) and Beijing (-11 %).

On a larger scale, in China, 86 percent of cities experienced cleaner air in 2020 than in 2019, according to the study. But the findings weren’t all positive.

Cleaner air, but issues remain

"Chinese residents are still exposed to PM2.5 levels more than three times the World Health Organisation (WHO) annual guidelines," it noted.

In the United States, 38 percent of cities failed to meet WHO targets for annual PM2.5 exposure in 2020, compared to 21 percent in 2019 and 20 percent in 2018. The average particle pollution levels rose by 6.7 percent in 2020.

South Asia has been billed as the most polluted region of the world with "Bangladesh, India and Pakistan sharing 42 of the 50 most polluted cities worldwide," according to the report.

South Asia has been billed as the most polluted region of the world with "Bangladesh, India and Pakistan sharing 42 of the 50 most polluted cities worldwide," according to the report.

Other factors contributing to the rise of pollution levels in the country were "the rollbacks of environmental regulations and lack of enforcement of the Clean Air Act," it added.

As far as Europe is concerned, in 2020 about half of its cities exceeded the WHO's target for annual PM2.5 pollution. The highest levels of pollution were found in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Overall, only 24 out of 106 monitored countries met World Health Organization (WHO) annual guidelines for PM2.5 in 2020.

The reduction of vehicle emissions was ultimately offset by the climate change impact with "wildfires and sandstorms in 2020 contributing to extremely high pollution levels in the US, South America, Siberia and Australia," according to the study.

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