Update 2022: Air Quality Life Index (AQLI)

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago released an update to the Air Quality Life Index earlier this year (June 2022). It brings us new insights into the air quality around the world.

What is the Air Quality Life Index?

The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) was developed by the University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics Michael Greenstone and his team at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). Its objective is to quantify the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to air pollution and life expectancy. The AQLI also analyzes the impact air pollution policies have on life expectancy when they meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines of safe exposure, existing national air quality standards, or user-defined air quality levels.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused an economic shutdown and a momentary reduction in air pollution in some areas of the world. However, the latest PM2.5 satellite review by Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) indicated little change in global particulate pollution. "The global population weighted-average PM2.5 level declined only from 27.7 to 27.5 µg/m3 between 2019 and 2020". Data shows that air pollution worldwide remained flat or even increased during the rapid slowdown in the global economy.

A clear example of this was South Asia. The air pollution in one of the world's most polluted regions did not decrease, but managed to increase during the first year of the pandemic. Air pollution proved to be a persistent and stubborn problem that refuses to improve even when circumstances seem optimal for its reduction.

The World Health Organization Standards and the AQLI

Clean air positively impacts life and life expectancy. The AQLI's latest report shows that by permanently reducing air pollution according to the WHO’s standards, the average person could live up to 2.2 years more.

South Asia is home to Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan - four of the five most polluted countries in the world. And with that, the region has a unique opportunity to improve air pollution and life expectancy. AQLI data reveals that the region's life expectancy can increase by five years by reducing air pollution to meet WHO guidelines.

On the African continent, Central and West Africa have significantly grown their fossil fuel consumption in the last years. But, nearly all the countries in the region do not have a national pollution limit, and there are only three real-time air quality monitoring stations. This combination is especially worrying since particulate pollution in this region is as much a threat as malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Good News - Good Air

In contrast, China had the highest pollution levels ever experienced nine years ago. As a result, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang declared "war against pollution" and allocated substantial public resources to improve the problem. Since then, China has seen a reduction of 39.6% in pollution; if the trend continues, it will add two years to the average life expectancy in the region.

Although China still exceeds the WHO guidelines, its actions to reduce air pollution account for the global average decline since 2013. "It took several decades and recessions for the United States and Europe to achieve the same pollution reductions that China could accomplish in 7 years, even as it continued to grow its economy".

There are no weak actions against air pollution. As we continue to understand and learn more about air quality, the best we can do is raise awareness about the problem and stay up-to-date with the latest news.

Worried about air quality?

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map. or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. 

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.


Greenstone, M., Hasenkopf, C. and Lee, K., 2022. Air Quality Life Index, Anual Update June 2022. [online] Aqli.epic.uchicago.edu. Available at: <https://aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/AQLI_2022_Report-Global.pdf> [Accessed 15 August 2022].