This issue of In Focus reflects on the 2021 World Air Quality Report conducted by IQAir in March 2022. The survey, which reports on PM2.5 air quality results, is based on measurements and data collected in over 6400 cities in almost 120 countries worldwide.
IQAir is a Swiss-based air quality technology company that seeks to empower individuals, organizations and communities to breathe cleaner air through information, collaboration and technology solutions. IQAir's AirVisual global air quality information platform aggregates, validates and calibrates air quality data from a wide variety of sources, including governments, private citizens and organizations.
The study finds that not one country globally met the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality standard for PM2.5 in 2021, and smog even rebounded in some regions after a COVID-related reduction for most of 2020 and 2021. While reasons for not meeting the standard vary, emissions from transport is a dominant theme that shows up in most of the region and country reviews in the report.
The full report, including a detailed region/country review, and other useful data and information can be found in IQAir’s website, using this link.
IQ Air: 2021 World air quality summary
In September 2021, WHO updated its global air quality guidelines, 15 years after the last update in 2006. Recognizing the significant impact of air pollution on global health, WHO halved the recommended annual PM2.5 concentration from 10 µg/m³ to 5 µg/m³. The table and graph below divide the world into seven groups of multiples of the WHO PM2.5 guideline of 5 µg/m³ to allow easy identification of region and country specific results.
Using the same colour scheme, the following table ranks the countries’ population weighted, 2021 average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³) in descending order.
While air quality data from Africa and large parts of Latin America remains scarce, it comes as no real surprise that 15 out of 16 countries in the first cluster of most PM2.5-polluted countries are from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Looking at the first two tiers, which include all those which exceed to WHO target by more than 5-fold, only two south-east European countries, namely Macedonia and Croatia are included in the list of 35 countries, and that only right at the end of the negative ranking.
While China still features in the 2nd category of leading countries with poor air quality, detailed data shows that there is now a steady improvement unfolding after the country has rolled-out its GB-VI (equivalent to Euro 6) fuel and emission standards nationwide. Data from 66% of Chinese cities showing decreased PM2.5 concentrations compared to 2020. In 2021, air pollution in the capital city of Beijing continued a five-year trend in PM2.5 reductions and marked the first time the city achieved its own air pollution targets.
India has also adopted its own Bharat-6 fuel standards recently in 2021, but the country still ranks very high among the heavy polluters. This we consider is predominantly due to the ongoing lack of awareness of air quality concerns among consumers and manufacturers. The administration also urgently needs to tackle apparent loopholes in emission testing and other controls.
Persistently poor air quality in Indonesia continues to endanger the health of residents. The worst air quality in 2021 was measured in the capital city of Jakarta. Indonesia ranks as the no. 17 among the leading PM2.5 polluters worldwide. Efforts undertaken by the Clean Fuels lobby to improve fuel standards to at least acceptable base levels keep finding resistance from industry partners and others. The implementation and roll-out of Euro-4 fuel standards in under review for a number of years and till date there is no clear timeline committed to.
Similar challenges exist in Africa, where air quality data is scarce anyway. With the continent's population expected to double over the next 30 years, rapid transport growth, industrialization and urbanization are likely to negatively impact regional air quality, making additional efforts to address emission sources even more urgent.
The fact that the Middle East features strongly in the first two categories of heavy polluters is also not really a surprise. In terms of fuel standards and emission from the transportation sector, some countries in the Middle East have adopted highest, international levels, while other trail far behind of do not even have any quality standards. All attempts to harmonize fuel standards across the region have failed till date, admittedly difficult to achieve in this politically much diversified part of the world.
To summarize, achieving the WHO PM2.5 emission targets will remain a tough challenge, in all parts of the world. While developed regions are now increasingly pushing for alternative fuels or for a move to electrification of the transportation fuel sector, lesser developed countries will struggle to keep up. Resources in terms of required raw materials may be available in specific cases, whereas the lack of technology and infrastructure as well as the shortage of public funding are considered as the big challenges for the foreseeable future.
However, referring to positive examples set by China and as accomplished in most of the western world and in North-East Asia, more affordable and technically easier implemented solutions are available in the meantime. Raising existing fuel standards and implementing higher standards in transportation fuels is certainly a viable possibility. MTBE and ETBE are two of the clean fuel components, which will enhance fuel quality and octane ratings by replacing other more harmful components. Ether supply and capacity globally is considered as adequate, providing a realistic and affordable measure to contribute to air quality improvements.
In this issue of our “In Conversation with” we talked to Mr. Jeff Hove, acting Vice President and Executive Director at the Fuels Institute. In recent years we have seen some initiatives to consider policies to ban the sale of vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines (ICE), predominantly emerging in Europe, but also spreading out in parts of Asia.
In this issue of our “In Conversation with” we talked to Dr Tilak Doshi, an energy sector consultant based in Singapore. Dr Doshi shared his views and observations about the global “2050 decarbonisation” plan and move towards Electric Vehicles (EVs) with us. We would like to thank Dr Doshi for his efforts to comprehensively answer our questions which provide some highly valuable and very interesting insights into this matter, highlighting a range of topics often overlooked in the political discussion between the various stakeholders in the race to save the world from impending climate catastrophe.