Almost 99% of the world’s population breathes polluted air – much beyond the World Health Organization guideline limits.
Now, a new scorecard by Global Climate and Health Alliance shows how the world’s biggest carbon-emitting economies are failing when it comes to integrating air quality into national climate plans. Meanwhile, countries suffering the worst impacts of air pollution are taking the most action.
The Clean Air NDC Scorecard, published on 18 October by the Global Climate and Health Alliance, a leading global convenor of more than 150 health professional and health civil society organizations addressing climate change, reveals how low- and middle income countries – which suffer from the highest exposure to air pollution – are demonstrating far more attention and ambition to combat air pollution, with Colombia and Mali emerging as joint global leaders on the issue, a press release from the organisation said.
The scorecard compares countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as required by the Paris Agreement and examines whether they recognise the health impacts of air pollution, or if they prioritise action to improve air quality. A total of 169 countries, plus the European Union, were assessed for the study.
The countries were scored on five categories: health impacts, air pollutants, source sectors, economics and finance, and bonus points. “In addition to the ‘clean air score’, with a maximum of 15 points, which is based on the written commitments made in the NDC, the scorecard also includes information on the burden of air pollution mortality in each country, enabling a comparison to be made between recognition and planned action on air quality in NDCs, and the reality of air pollution impacts on the population," the press release said.
Countries from the global south lead the way in terms of reflecting air quality in their national climate plans, with Colombia and Mali both scoring 12 out of 15 points, and all but one of the 15 countries scoring at least 8/15 being low or middle income countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Pakistan and Togo with 10 points; Ghana with 9 points; and Albania, Bangladesh, Cambodia, El Salvador, Honduras, Moldova, Sierra Leone with 9 points; alongside Chile as the one high-income country in the top 15, with 10 points).
Among the G20 nations, Canada and China lead the way in integrating air quality in their national climate plans. The lowest scorers are Australia, Brazil, the European Union, and India (with a score of 2 out of 15), and also COP28 hosts the United Arab Emirates. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are lowest on the scorecard with one and zero points respectively. The likes of India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Australia had little or no mention of air pollution in their climate plans, the study reveals.
Globally, the average score achieved in any NDC was 3.5 out of 15 points. G20 countries which submitted an individual NDC (all except Germany and Italy) scored below average, with a mean of 3.3 points, the study findings said. The top ten per capita emitters (Qatar, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Mongolia, Oman, Australia, Saudi Arabia), many of which are major fossil fuel producers, scored an average of just 2.4 points, which indicates a lack of interest in connecting fossil fuel phase out to clean air.
In some countries, the burden of air pollution is high (for example in India, where there are 119.9 deaths from air pollution per 100,000 population) but detailed air quality considerations were not included in NDCs, the release said.
Globally, seven million premature deaths occur every year due to air pollution, which makes the findings of this study even more stark.
“The Clean Air NDC Scorecard confirms the human cost of delaying the inevitable phase-out of fossil fuels”, Jess Beagley, policy lead at the Global Climate and Health Alliance, said in the release. “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 Beagley. “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”.