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The 2021 World Air Quality Report finds that only three percent of cities and no single country met the latest World Health Organization’s (WHO) PM2.5 annual air quality guidelines. The report analyzes PM2.5 air pollution measurements from air monitoring stations in 6,475 cities in 117 countries, regions and territories.

India is the fifth most polluted country in the world with average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³) of 58.1. Bangladesh tops the list with an average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³) of 76.9.

According to the report, New Caledonia is the least polluted country in the world with average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³) of 3.8.

Among the capital cities New Delhi is the most polluted capital city, followed by Dhaka, Bangladesh and N’Djamena, Chad.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 70% of global air quality related deaths occur in CENTRAL & SOUTH ASIA

Key findings

  • No country met the latest WHO air quality guideline for PM2.5 in 2021.
  • Only the territories of New Caledonia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico met updated WHO PM2.5 air quality guidelines.
  • Only 222 out of 6,475 global cities covered in the report met updated WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
  • 93 cities in the report had annual PM2.5 concentrations exceeding 10 times the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
  • Of 174 Latin America and the Caribbean cities, only 12 (7 percent) met the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
  • Of 65 African cities, only one (1.5 percent) met updated annual WHO PM2.5 guidelines. 
  • Of 1,887 Asian cities, only four (0.2 percent) met updated WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
  • Of the 1,588 cities in Europe, only 55 (3 percent) met the WHO PM2.5 guidelines.
  • The report covered 2,408 cities in the United States and found that average PM2.5 concentrations rose from 9.6 µg/m3 to 10.3 µg/m3 in 2021 compared to 2020. Of the major cities in the United States, Los Angeles was the most polluted. However, the City of Angels saw an overall decrease in PM2.5 pollution of 6 percent compared to 2020.
  • The top five most polluted countries in 2021 were:
    • Bangladesh
    • Chad
    • Pakistan
    • Tajikistan
    • India 
  • New Delhi (India) is the world’s most polluted capital city for the fourth consecutive year followed by Dhaka (Bangladesh), N’Djamena (Chad), Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Muscat (Oman).
  • Air quality in China continued to improve in 2021. More than half of the cities in China included in the report saw lower levels of air pollution when compared to the previous year. Pollution levels within the capital city of Beijing continued a five-year trend of improved air quality, driven by emission control and reduction of coal power plant activity and other high emission industries.
  • Central and South Asia had some of the world’s worst air quality in 2021 and was home to 46 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities. The only two cities that met updated WHO PM2.5 guideline were Zhezqazghan and Chu (Kazakhstan). 
  • Air quality monitoring remains sparse in Africa, South America and the Middle East, although progress has been made by low-cost air quality sensors often operated by non-profit organizations and citizen scientists.

India was home to 11 of the 15 most polluted cities in Central and South Asia in 2021. Delhi saw a 14.6% increase in PM2.5 concentrations in 2021 with levels rising to 96.4 µg/m3 from 84 µg/m3 in No cities in India met the WHO air quality guideline of 5 µg/m3. In 2021, 48% of India’s cities exceeded 50 µg/m3 , or more than 10 times the WHO guideline

IQAir World Air Quality Report 2021

Bhiwadi, Rajasthan India is the world’s most polluted city. Chu, Kazakhstan is the least polluted city in Central and South Asia.

In 2019, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) enacted the National Clean Air Program (NCAP). The plan seeks to reduce PM concentrations by 20% to 30% by 2024 in all identified non-attainment cities, increase air quality monitoring, and implement a city, regional, and state-specific clean air action plan as well as conduct source apportionment studies.

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