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    Guide Author

    James Longley

    Managing Director

    min read
    Last Updated November 3, 2022
    Polluted Cities

    In 2019, it was reported that air pollution cost the world over $8 trillion, but which cities are the biggest causes of pollution over recent years?

    Billions of people across the world are still breathing unhealthy air, and a record number of 6,000 cities in 117 countries now monitor their air quality.

    Climate change will always be a hot topic in the news and especially this year, following the record-breaking heatwaves and drought across China, the US and western Europe.

    We will explore global cities based on a variety of environmental factors, including air quality, light pollution, carbon footprint and traffic inefficiencies.

    Find out how your business can go green with Utility Bidder, and compare business energy prices.

    The Most Polluted Cities in the World

    We evaluated 54 global cities based on the below factors to come up with a polluted city score. Cities that did not have all the data we needed were removed from the list:

    The most polluted cities in the world

    1. Los Angeles, United States

    Polluted City Score: 8.25

    Los Angeles in the USA came out as the worst polluted city on our list of global cities. Over recent years, major cities have become blighted by air pollution due to traffic congestion and CO2 in the air. The city of Los Angeles had the highest traffic index score on our list, which is based on time spent in traffic, CO2 consumption estimation in traffic, and inefficiencies in its traffic management. The city had a fairly low level of air pollution compared to other cities (13.7 out of 100), and its carbon footprint was much smaller than others in the top spot (14.6 tonnes of CO2 per person).

     

    2. Doha, Qatar

    Polluted City Score: 8.16

    The shining jewel of Qatar, Doha, is the second most polluted city in the world. With the second-highest levels of air pollution on our list behind Lahore (38.2 out of 100), and among one of the worst cities for its levels of high light pollution (18700μcd/m2), Qatar has been named as one of the countries with the highest amount of air pollution.

     

    3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

    Polluted City Score: 7.97

    Another city in the Middle East that has been affected by high levels of pollution, is the fast-developing capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. Riyadh has equally high levels of light pollution as Doha (18700μcd/m2), as well as air pollution (32.5 out of 100). The modern city also has a large carbon footprint (20.7t CO2 per person). Although, the city’s traffic index is fairly low (144) compared to the congested city of Los Angeles.

     

    4. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

    Polluted City Score: 7.6

    Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Emirates, and the second-most populous city behind Dubai, scores fourth on our list of the most polluted cities. Abu Dhabi has the highest levels of light pollution on our list (18800μcd/m2). Light pollution is more highly concentrated in cities with large populations with illuminated streets and buildings. Abu Dhabi also had the largest carbon footprint of our top five cities (32.9t CO2 per person).

     

    5. Tel Aviv, Israel

    Polluted City Score: 7.41

    Tel Aviv is Israel’s cultural and commercial capital, and it scores fifth on our list of polluted cities. The city of Tel Aviv scored poorly for its traffic index (157.45), and it was reported that the Ayalon Highway connecting Tel Aviv to the rest of the country suffers heavy traffic almost non-stop, which could also have a major impact on the city’s carbon footprint (11.5t CO2). Tel Aviv also has high levels of light pollution (11600μcd/m2).

    City pollution across the world

    The Least Polluted Cities in the World

    The least polluted cities in the world

    1. Munich, Germany

    Polluted City Score: 2.08

    Munich, Germany, is the least polluted city on our list. The city has a very low level of light pollution (2860μcd/m2) as well as good air quality (10.3 out of 100). Since 2008, Munich has had a low emission zone, meaning that high emission vehicles are no longer permitted to be driven into the city. The regulation covers automobiles, buses, motor homes, and trucks. This could also contribute to the extremely low carbon footprint the city has (7.2t CO2 per person).

     

    2. Frankfurt, Germany

    Polluted City Score: 2.45

    Frankfurt, the most populous city in the German state of Hesse, scored second on our list of the least polluted cities in the world. The city had an impressively low traffic index (82.42), despite it being a popular tourist destination. Frankfurt also has low levels of air pollution (10.5 out of 100) and light pollution (3460μcd/m2).

     

    3. Copenhagen, Denmark

    Polluted City Score: 2.78

    Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark and the most populous city in the country scored third among the least polluted cities. The city has very good air quality (9.7 out of 100) and low light pollution (4360μcd/m2). Copenhagen has cut its emissions by 24 percent from 2005 levels, by moving away from fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity.

     

    4. Stockholm, Sweden & Zurich, Switzerland

    Polluted City Score: 3.02

    Tieing in fourth place for their low levels of air pollution are Stockholm and Zurich. Stockholm has the lowest air pollution on our list of cities (6 out of 100), and Zurich has the lowest levels of light pollution out of all our cities (114μcd/m2).

    Stockholm is renowned for being one of Europe’s most environmentally friendly cities, because of investment in sustainable infrastructures and low emissions.

    Zurich operates an efficient public transport system, and operates a cap-and-trade scheme on car parking, meaning for every new car park space that is constructed, one is removed. This method to lower the use of cars in the city.

    Methodology

    We started by collating a list of 100 global cities, with any that didn’t have full comparable data for each factor being removed.

    The remaining cities were then analysed on the following factors, with each one given a normalised score out of 10 before an average of these scores was taken.

    Air quality

    The annual air pollution in the city for 2021 according to IQAir’s world’s most polluted cities data.

    Light pollution

    The artificial brightness in the city centre according to LightPollutionMap.info.

    Traffic index

    The traffic index in the city centre according to Traffic Index by City 2022 Mid-Year.

    Carbon footprint

    The total carbon footprint (tonnes of CO2 per person) according to the Global Gridded Model of Carbon Footprints (GGMCF).

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