Air Quality Life Index 2023


The Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) developed by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) is an index that measures particulate air pollution by a very significant metric: its effect on life expectancy. The 2022 annual update of the index was released on September 25, 2023. It was authored by Michael Greenstone and Christa Hasenkopf, researchers associated with EPIC.

Fine particulate air pollution remains the greatest external threat to public health. The index illustrates the impact of PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometres or smaller) pollution on human lives and states that an average human being loses 2.3 years of life expectancy due to exposure to particulate pollution. It also shows how policies combating air pollution can improve life expectancy in various parts of the world.

This 38-page report is comprised of seven sections: Air Pollution’s Threat to Health and the Tools to Combat It Remain Unequally Distributed Worldwide (Section 1); South Asia Continues as Global Epicenter for Pollution (Section 2); Air Pollution is a Major Burden in Southeast Asia (Section 3); Central and West Africa is a Growing Pollution Hotbed (Section 4); Most Latin Americans are Breathing Air Exceeding the WHO Guideline (Section 5); China’s War Against Pollution Marches On (Section 6); and Despite Broad Improvements, Air Pollution Inequality Is Pervasive in the United States and Europe (Section 7).

The present document also includes the AQLI 2023 India Fact Sheet.


  1. Particulate pollution across the world has increased over time. Between 1998 and 2021, there was a 67.7 per cent rise in average annual particulate pollution, reducing average life expectancy by 2.3 years. As much as 59.1 per cent of the world’s increase in pollution, from 2013 to 2021, has come from India.

  2. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines released in 2005 had specified 10 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m³) as the upper limit on the acceptable level of particulate pollution people should breathe. The WHO revised its guidelines on September 22, 2021 to lower the limit to 5 μg/m³.

  3. South Asia, home to nearly a quarter of the global population, was home to the world's four most polluted countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

  4. The report states that prevalence of PM2.5 reduces the average Indian's life expectancy by 5.3 years compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met. In the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which the report finds to be the most polluted city in the world, air pollution shortens life expectancy by 11.9 years.

  5. The Northern Plains region of India, which is home to over half a billion people accounting for 38.9 per cent of the country's population, is the most polluted region in the country. Residents in this region face an average loss of approximately 8 years of life expectancy if current pollution levels persist. This area includes Delhi where annual average particulate pollution levels reach 126.5 µg/m³ – more than 25 times higher than the WHO guideline.

  6. Other states in the country with high annual average particulate matter concentrations in 2021 were Uttar Pradesh (94.4 µg/m³), Haryana (90.1 µg/m³) and Bihar (86.2 µg/m³). People living in these states would make life expectancy gains of around eight years if the concentration of PM2.5 in these areas was brought in line with WHO standards.

  7. The states and union territories recording the lowest concentrations of PM2.5 were Ladakh (10.8 µg/m³), followed by Arunachal Pradesh (16.7 µg/m³) and Kerala (18.5 µg/m³).

  8. Americans enjoy cleaner air due to robust policies supported by comprehensive data, and advocacy efforts. Several of today’s most polluted countries lack these resources. Only 6.8 per cent of governments in Asia and 3.7 per cent in Africa provide completely accessible air quality data. Additionally, just 35.6 per cent of countries in Asia and 4.9 per cent in Africa have air quality standards in place. Both are essential for effective policy action.

  9. The Clean Air Fund, a London-based organisation, estimated that philanthropic foundations across the world employed 63.8 million US dollars in 2021 to combat outdoor air pollution. This amount roughly equals what Americans are estimated to lose each year in spare change. Europe, the United States, and Canada received 34 million US dollars in philanthropic funding for addressing air pollution in 2021, while Africa received less than 300,000.

  10. In 2021, China introduced its carbon emissions trading system (ETS), now the world's largest carbon market, surpassing the European Union's market threefold. It is projected to expand by 70 per cent with the inclusion of heavy industry and manufacturing sectors.

    Focus and Factoids by Arunima Mandwariya.

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Michael Greenstone and Christa Hasenkopf


The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC)


25 Sep, 2023