New Scorecard Finds Big Polluters Are Doing Little to Address Air Pollution – With Saudi Arabia Ranked Worst
An estimated 99% of the world’s population is exposed to air pollution.

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters are doing very little to address air pollution, with Saudi Arabia scoring worst of the group, according to a new global air pollution evaluation released on Wednesday.

The 2023 Clean Air Scorecard analyses how governments’ climate commitments – called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – recognise and contribute to ensuring healthy air.

Countries are scored on how they integrate air quality considerations into their national climate plans to deliver the Paris Agreement to contain global warming to 1.5ºC, and whether they recognise the health impacts of air pollution and prioritise action to improve air quality. 

But the world’s top 10 air polluters – China, United States, India, European Union (EU), Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia – scored a miserable average of 2.7 points out of a possible 15.

Saudi Arabia was bottom of the group, scoring zero out of 15, according to the scorecard, which was produced by the Global Climate and Health Alliance. Saudi Arabia’s NDC climate commitments align with global warming of an additional 4°C and it does not even mention air quality considerations. 

Bahrain and North Korea also scored zero, as do three Pacific island countries – Nauru, Palau and Solomon Islands. 

“North Korea and Solomon Islands carry the highest air pollution mortality rate of all countries analysed,” according to the scorecard. “In Solomon Islands, this is driven by household air pollution, as most households do not have access to electricity and use solid fuels for cooking.”

Among the G20 countries, Canada and China lead the way in integrating air quality in their national climate plans. The lowest scorers are Australia, Brazil, the EU and India.

The United Arab Emirates, host of the next Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting to assess countries’ progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, scored merely one point.

Highest scores for Colombia and Mali 

In contrast, Colombia and Mali lead on the integration of air pollution considerations into their NDCs, achieving 12 out of 15 possible points. They are followed by Chile, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Nigeria with 10 points. 

Pakistan, Togo, Ghana, Albania, Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Honduras, Moldova and Sierra Leone also score highly.

“Fourteen of the 15 top-scoring countries are low- or middle-income countries,” according to the report. Chile is the only high-income country to score highly.

“Air pollution already causes 6.7 to 7 million deaths annually, including due to cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory conditions, and some cancers,” according to the scorecard.

“Fossil fuel dependence is a major cause of both climate change and air pollution. Fossil fuel phase-out is a public health and planetary health imperative.”

“Of the 170 NDCs analysed, almost all (164) mention air pollution to some extent,” according to the scorecard.

“As major global polluters, it is crucial for G20 countries to embed air quality considerations into their NDC, yet no G20 government even scores half marks – indicative of lack of recognition of the links between climate and air quality, or ambition to take action”, said said Jess Beagley, Policy Lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance. 

“It is also telling that the countries seeking to take the greatest action on air pollution are often those bearing the brunt of the impacts.

“In several countries with higher scores, including Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan and China, high levels of air pollution mortality exist. Increased finance could enable these countries to accelerate implementation of actions they have identified.”

“Air pollution sits at the nexus of public health and climate change, yet too many countries are still failing to reap the health benefits of clean air and climate action”, said Nina Renshaw, Head of Health at the Clean Air Fund, which funded the report. 

“This means they are missing out on better air quality, which would dramatically reduce the number of people suffering from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and asthma, which are all caused or worsened by air pollution. 

Renshaw added that while several African countries are recognising the health impacts of air pollution, this consciousness was “conspicuously absent from many G20 countries’ climate plans”.

“Ahead of COP28 and the first ever Health Day, we remind the host country, the United Arab Emirates, and all delegates, that the health benefits are at the heart of the case for climate action – and these can only be unlocked by taking action for clean air”, added Renshaw. 

“A full stop to burning fossil fuels is essential to unlock the enormous co-benefits of clean air” said Beagley. “Protecting people’s health cannot be achieved by carbon capture technologies, which do not address toxic pollutants and particulates, such as black carbon which also accelerates warming.The vested interests of fossil fuel companies and their influence over national and international policy processes are costing lives, and must be ended”, continued Beagley. 

Air quality groups – including the Global Climate and Health Alliance – have written to COP28 President Dr Al Jaber, calling on him to focus on air pollution during the climate summit. However, the scorecard reveals that the UAE is not yet adequately considering air quality alongside its national climate commitments.

Image Credits: Mariordo, Photologic.

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