July 24, 2024

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New Zealand one of only seven countries to meet world air quality standards

New Zealand was named as one of just seven countries to meet WHO air quality standards. Photo / 123RF

Kiwis don’t have to travel far to find a breath of fresh air, as New Zealand was revealed as having the sixth cleanest air quality in the world. However some regions are not as pure as the tourism slogan would have us believe, with several exceeding pollution targets by double.

Aotearoa was one of just seven countries with a pollution concentration within the World Health Organisation’s standards.

With an air quality score of 4.3 μg/m³ of fine particulate pollution, compared to a baseline of 5 in the World Air Quality Report 2023, New Zealand was among the likes of Iceland and Estonia as the world’s cleanest. Airspace in neighbouring Australia was also in the running with 4.5 μg/m³.

Wellington was named the world capital with the second purest air quality, just behind San Juan in Puerto Rico when weighted for population.

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In the past six years since IQ Air’s annual reporting started, New Zealand’s air quality has been slowly improving from 7.7 μg/m³ in 2018 to within the standards.

But don’t hold your breath.

The survey identified 100 cities and regional measuring stations that continued to exceed the guidelines.

In New Zealand only 34 per cent of towns were within the acceptable levels for air pollution, compared to 54.9 per cent in the region which included Australia, New Caledonia and Guam.

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Tokoroa, in south Waikato, was named as the most polluted regional settlement in Oceania. The forestry hub was found to exceed the WHO’s targets for PM2.5 by more than double the target at 10.6 μg/m³. Nelson city was the most polluted city at 10.2 μg/m³.

“Oceania remains the world’s cleanest region,” read the summary in the 2023 World Air Quality Report.

“Despite a nearly 1 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration in Wellington, the overall country average fell by approximately half that amount to 4.3.”

Jonathan Caldwell, a senior scientist for environmental chemistry at Waikato Regional Council said that while New Zealand was at the top of the rankings there were still several comparable sites that were also above the interim target.

While Tokoroa was top of the report and one of the worst for air quality in the North Island, LAWA recorded 24 sites across New Zealand which failed to meet WHO standards last year for 4 of more days.

“We still have work to do to improve it as no level of PM2.5 has been identified as safe,” said Caldwell.

Despite New Zealand’s result, 92 per cent of the 134 countries surveyed were above the pollution guidelines for clean air, with Bangladesh and India’s New Delhi metropolitan area up to 20 times the target levels.

The PM2.5 size particulates are most commonly linked to combustion and industry making them a common measure for environmental agencies worldwide.

Frank Hammes, chief executive of Swiss-based air purifier company, IQAir said that compiles the annual report.

“Air quality data saves lives,” said Hammes. “Where air quality is reported, action is taken, and air quality improves.”

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Tokoroa: Is this south Waikato town really New Zealand's worst for air quality? Photo / Danielle Zollickhofer
Tokoroa: Is this south Waikato town really New Zealand’s worst for air quality? Photo / Danielle Zollickhofer

Would you travel for clean air?

Finland, the country which topped the air quality rankings wasted no time in promoting its virtues as a health tourism destination.

The country boasted not only the cleanest air overall but the best consecutive air quality results at the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in Lapland.

Home to the Levi wilderness resort, the region promotes its tourism through a claim to “the cleanest air in the world”.

Eija Asmi, senior researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and head of the aerosols and climate research group, said it was essential that the region’s tourism develops in a sustainable manner.

“The attractiveness of clean air becomes evident to those seeking peace, purity, and health in a holiday destination. Pure air is not just a tourist attraction but also a health-promoting asset.”

The World’s cleanest countries for air pollution 2023

  1. Finland
  2. Estonia
  3. Puerto Rico
  4. Australia
  5. New Zealand
  6. Bermuda
  7. Grenada
  8. Iceland
  9. Mauritius
  10. French Polynesia
Finland was named the country with the purest air quality in 2023.
Finland was named the country with the purest air quality in 2023.

The World’s dirtiest countries for air pollution 2023

  1. Bangladesh
  2. Pakistan
  3. India
  4. Tajikistan
  5. Burkina Faso
  6. Iraq
  7. United Arab Emirates
  8. Nepal
  9. Egypt
  10. Dem. Rep. of the Congo
  11. Kuwait
  12. Bahrain
  13. Qatar
  14. Indonesia
  15. Rwanda