Which country has the cleanest air in the world?

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The countries with the cleanest air in the world have been ranked in a new report. We take a look at the results

The island nation of the Bahamas has the world’s cleanest air according to the latest World Air Quality Report by IQAir. The report ranks 98 countries and territories by the level of fine particulate matter present in the air.

Air pollution continues to pose one of the biggest threats to human health, causing the death of seven million people every year. Billions more suffer the effects of poor air quality. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 92% of the global population breathes toxic air.

The Bahamas have the cleanest air in the world, followed by the territory of the US Virgin Islands, then Iceland, Finland and Estonia. At the other end of the spectrum, Bangladesh has the worst air quality followed by Pakistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan and India respectively.

The Bahamas have the cleanest air in the world
Stefan Ugljevarevic/Shutterstock The Bahamas have the cleanest air in the world

Air Quality Index

The report analyses results from over 60,000 monitoring stations located across the globe, making it the world’s largest centralised platform for measuring air quality. It also draws on data collected from thousands of clean air initiatives administered by governments, non-profit organisations, citizens, communities and private companies.

The report focuses on PM2.5 concentrations as this is the pollutant widely regarded as most harmful to human health. PM2.5 is defined as ambient airborne particles measuring up to 2.5 microns in size. A micron (or micrometre) is one-millionth of a metre or one-thousandth of a millimetre.

Map of the world featuring the results
IQAir The countries in blue are the only ones to pass the WHO’s guidelines

Its microscopic size allows the particles to enter the bloodstream via the respiratory system and travel through the body, causing a range of health problems including asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. Air pollution is also associated with low birth weight, increased acute respiratory infections and stroke.

The WHO’s Air Quality Guideline value for PM2.5 exposure – which has been proven to be free of health impacts – is 10µg/m³ or 10 micrograms of air pollutant per cubic meter of air. There are only 18 countries and territories, out of the 98 assessed, which pass these guidelines.

most polluted cities

The report also produces a ranking for 355 of the world’s cities. Delhi famously hit the headlines in 2020 when the city witnessed drastically improved air quality when restrictions were introduced due to the pandemic. However, the city soon returned to “normal” when pollution hit “emergency” levels in November 2020 and the city became enveloped in thick toxic smog.

The world’s 30 most polluted cities are all located in Asia, with 21 in India alone and 27 in South Asia. Ghaziabad in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is the world’s most polluted city while Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital.

Delhi in thick smog
Amit kg/Shutterstock Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital city

Most polluted cities

  1. Ghaziabad, India
  2. Hotan, China
  3. Gujranwala, Pakistan
  4. Faisalabad, Pakistan
  5. Delhi, India
  6. Noida, India
  7. Gurugram, India
  8. Raiwind, Pakistan
  9. Greater Noida, India
  10. Bandhwari, India

Most polluted capital cities

  1. Delhi, India
  2. Dhaka, Bangladesh
  3. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  4. Kabul, Afghanistan
  5. Jakarta, Indonesia
  6. Kathmandu, Nepal
  7. Hanoi, Vietnam
  8. Manama, Bahrain
  9. Beijing, China
  10. Tashkent, Uzbekistan

COUNTRY RANKING: Cleanest air in the world

The World Air Quality Report ranks 98 countries and territories. States that have been omitted lacked sufficient ground-based PM2.5 monitoring stations.

RankCountryAve. PM2.5
1Bahamas3.3
2US Virgin Islands3.5
3Iceland5.6
4Finland5.6
5Estonia6.2
6Sweden6.6
7Norway6.9
8New Zealand7.5
9Canada7.7
10Australia8.0
11Ecuador8.6
12USA9.0
13Portugal9.3
14Malta9.4
15Denmark9.6
16Luxembourg9.6
17Spain9.7
18Russia9.9
19Puerto Rico10.2
20Costa Rica10.4
21UK10.5
22Ireland10.6
23Switzerland10.9
24Netherlands10.9
25Germany11.0
26Japan11.4
27Austria12.2
28France12.3
29Belgium12.5
30Latvia13.3
31Czech Rep.14.5
32Lithuania14.5
33Hungary14.6
34Argentina14.6
35Colombia14.6
36Brazil15.8
37Angola15.9
38Slovakia16.1
39Ukraine16.6
40Italy17.1
41Taiwan17.2
42Philippines17.6
43Egypt18.0
44Jordan18.3
45Romania18.3
46Poland18.7
47Singapore19.0
48Croatia19.1
49Malaysia19.4
50Cyprus19.7
51Mexico20.0
52Georgia20.1
53Ethiopia20.1
54Guatemala20.2
55Hong Kong SAR20.3
56Turkey20.6
57Israel20.8
58Cambodia21.1
59Algeria21.2
60Nigeria21.4
61South Africa21.6
62Saudi Arabia22.1
63Greece22.5
64Chile22.6
65Laos23.1
66Peru23.3
67Serbia23.3
68Macao SAR23.5
69Kosovo23.5
70Kazakhstan23.6
71Thailand24.3
72Iran24.3
73South Korea24.8
74Sri Lanka25.2
75Bulgaria25.5
76Armenia25.5
77Uganda29.1
78Ghana30.3
79Myanmar31.0
80DR Congo32.1
81Syria32.2
82North Macedonia32.4
83Kyrgyzstan33.2
84Vietnam34.1
85Bosnia & Herz.34.6
86Kuwait38.3
87UAE38.9
88China39.1
89Iraq39.6
90Uzbekistan41.2
91Nepal44.5
92Bahrain46.8
93Indonesia51.7
94India58.1
95Afghanistan58.8
96Mongolia62.0
97Pakistan65.8
98Bangladesh83.3

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Lead image: Blue Planet Studio/Shutterstock

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