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The World’s Most and Least Polluted Countries

There is only one planet Earth, which we all call home, so it makes sense that we need to look after it. With COP26 just under a month away, we thought it might be good to note the world’s most polluted countries who could do better, and the least polluted countries, who shine a light on what can be possible when you put your mind to it.

How to Measure the World’s Most Polluted Countries

In order to ascertain which are the most polluted countries in the world, the method needs to make sense. We have decided to use IQ Air’s 2020 data, which measures the amount of PM 2.5 in each country in micrograms divided by cubic metres (µg/m³). Taken from 8,000 data points, the results cover every country in the world as well as some island territories as well.

The results aren’t pleasing, which is to be expected when over 90% of people live in an area with unsafe air. With the WHO’s recent update to air quality guidelines - the first in 16 years - that percentage may get even worse. Although the results for 2020 are better than 2019 and 2018, the pandemic means that the 2021 results will no doubt be even worse than what you can read here. Hopefully the world’s governments will take note and deliver meaningful change at COP 26 in November.

World’s Most Polluted Countries

It comes as no surprise to find Bangladesh is the world’s most polluted country with 77.1 µg/m³ (down from 97.1 µg/m³ in 2018 and 83.3 µg/m³ in 2019). It has led the table in both 2018 and 2019 and although their emissions have decreased significantly - along with every other country in the world - it is not enough to remove the country from top sport. Rounding out the top five most polluted countries in the world are Pakistan, India, Mongolia and Afghanistan.

It is no surprise that poorer, larger countries are higher up the list than their richer counterparts. There simply isn’t the infrastructure to be quite so pioneering when it comes to air quality in these countries, while their large populations mean that there are more vehicles on the road (many of which are second hand and emit more emissions than newer vehicles). Even so, if these countries can move to more eco-friendly energy sources and invest in public transport that emits fewer pollutants, the world’s pollution will quickly dissipate.

The top ten list of the world's most polluted countries as of 2020 is:

  • Bangladesh - 77.1 µg/m³

  • Pakistan - 59.0 µg/m³

  • India - 51.9 µg/m³

  • Mongolia - 46.6 µg/m³

  • Afghanistan - 46.5 µg/m³

  • Oman - 44.4 µg/m³

  • Qatar - 44.3 µg/m³

  • Kyrgyzstan - 43.5 µg/m³

  • Indonesia - 40.7 µg/m³

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina - 40.6 µg/m³

World’s Least Polluted Countries

The world’s least polluted countries are all in Northern Europe: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia had just 5.0-5.9µg/m³ last year. This is unsurprising with each country regularly having less than 8.0µg/m³ over the last three years. Despite having low levels of PM2.5, none of these countries are the least populated areas on Earth.

The world’s least polluted areas are all territories and, perhaps understandably, are all islands with relatively small populations. Puerto Rico, New Caledonia and the US Virgin Islands were all equal in 2020 with just 3.7 µg/m³, though it should be noted that Puerto Rico almost certainly benefited from the pandemic in this regard, as the territory recorded 10.2µg/m³ a year previously.

The top ten list of the world's least polluted countries as of 2020 is:

  • Puerto Rico - 3.7 µg/m³

  • New Caledonia - 3.7 µg/m³

  • US Virgin Islands - 3.7 µg/m³

  • Sweden - 5.0 µg/m³

  • Finland - 5.0 µg/m³

  • Norway - 5.7 µg/m³

  • Estonia - 5.9 µg/m³

  • New Zealand - 7.0 µg/m³

  • Iceland - 7.2 µg/m³

  • Canada - 7.3 µg/m³

  • Andorra - 7.4 µg/m³

  • Australia - 7.6 µg/m³

  • Ecuador - 7.6 µg/m³

World’s Least Polluted Countries with a Large Population

It does not seem fair to compare the likes of Bangladesh, Pakistan and India to tiny territories and small (comparatively) European countries. Although it is possible to compare pollution rates per square kilometre, the data obviously has serious flaws due to a far smaller population size, meaning far fewer vehicles on the roads, and far less industries and factories upon which the world relies. So in the short term, what would be an achievable rate of pollution for these Asian countries?

The best comparisons to be made are Russia and Japan respectively. Russia (9.3µg/m³) has 20 million fewer people than Bangladesh but the air quality is 9x better. As a fellow Asian country, Japan (9.8µg/m³) might provide an even better comparison. With 40 million fewer people, the country enjoys air quality that is 6x better than Pakistan and 8x better than Bangladesh.

How to quickly reduce pollution levels in the world’s most polluted countries

There is no easy fix for the world’s most polluted countries but there are solutions to lower pollution levels. The likes of Colombia and Indonesia enacted public transport programmes to reduce their emissions, while companies can turn to projects like U-Earth’s Pure Air Zone, an award-winning biotech solution that uses bacteria and enzymes taken from the natural world to capture and neutralise contaminants in the air.

With the World Health Organization recently updated air quality guidelines, the first update in 16 years, now is the time to act to make a change. Book a meeting with one of our air quality specialists to see how you and your company can make a difference today.

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