While Poland has the highest levels of air pollution in Europe, according to the newly released Air Quality Life Index – an international ranking that charts air quality around the world – it also had the most to gain if pollution levels were reduced.
According to the study, the most polluted countries on the continent are generally in Eastern and Central Europe, with Belarus, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Latvia also high up the index.
When it comes to individual regions, the report finds that the most polluted are Moravskoslezský in the Czech Republic, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén in Hungary, Košický in Slovakia, and Warsaw in Poland.
The index shows it is not only Eastern Europe that has had life expectancy affected by air pollution.
“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving—perhaps more in some places—embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigor would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Michael Greenstone, a professor in economics at the University of Chicago and the director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC).
Areas of northern Italy, particularly the Po Valley, which includes Milan, scored particularly badly – in 2018, Italy’s industrial capital was behind only Warsaw for concentrated levels of PM2.5, the particles that scientists look at to measure air quality.
And despite most countries meeting the EU’s air pollution standard of 25 μg/m³, the Air Quality Life Index shows that nearly three-quarters of Europe’s population reportedly live in areas that fall short of the WHO’s guideline.
In spite of the warning, the study reports Europe’s response to air pollution over the past two decades has in general been a success story: on average, Europeans are exposed to 41 percent less particulate pollution today than they were 20 years ago, increasing life expectancy by nine months across the board.
An especially poignant example comes from China, where the country began a “war against pollution” in 2013. Since then, three-quarters of the world’s reductions in pollution have come from China. The country has reduced particulate pollution by nearly 40%.
“The legacy of environmental improvement in much of Europe over the last two decades is evidence that people living in today’s pollution hot spots can see brighter skies,” says Greenstone.
“A demand for change from citizens and subsequent strong policies have helped to clear the air in parts of Europe before and can continue to do so to ensure that high pollution today does not need to be tomorrow’s fate.”
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