The WHO’s Global Atlas Report: Air Pollution is Growing

These were the best and worst places for air quality in 2021, new report shows

The World Health Organization released its annual ‘Global Atlas’ report on Tuesday — an excellent source of data, a good look at where air pollution has been and a chance to consider what’s in store for the coming year.

The data itself is a mixed bag: the report’s author (the World Health Organization’s former director of the tobacco control division) says there’s a lot of potential for good air quality and a lot of potential for air pollution. The other side of the coin is that there are some “toxic” spots in the world and that pollution is growing in some places and declining in others—and we need to do a better job of managing air pollution if we want to maintain healthy, strong cities and communities throughout the world.

A full report on air quality is here, and you can read the WHO’s original data analysis here.

New data show some of the dirtiest air

The report breaks the data into three categories:

Air pollution, which is a combination of toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter (which is the one you see in the sky).

Health effects: The amount of air pollution we encounter, ranging from air quality, which you can smell, to respiratory illnesses.

Influence: What happens to the way we live and breathe when we use our lungs to take in and digest air pollution.

On the air pollution side of the ledger, the WHO has some new data about how the world’s cities are performing. The WHO’s Global Burden of Disease, which is a measure of the amount of disease from air pollution, shows that the world doesn’t really know how bad air pollution is getting, not after the last major report on air quality, which was in 2000.

The latest data shows that some cities are worse for air pollution than they were 10 years ago, when the WHO released a report on the WHO’s Global Burden of Disease.

Here’s the data:

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