SYDNEY, 29 October, 2018 – Groundbreaking analysis of new satellite data reveals the world’s largest NO2 air pollution hotspots across six continents in the most detail to date, and points the finger at coal and transport as the two principle sources of emissions.Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a dangerous pollutant that also contributes to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, two of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.

With hotspots across six continents, the data collected from 1 June to 31 August this year, shows the global extent and cross-boundary nature of the crisis. Governments must urgently step up their act and provide clean and healthy air for all.

“Air pollution is a global health crisis, with up to 95 percent of the world breathing unsafe air. With hotspots across six continents, ranging from cities to industrial clusters to agricultural areas, this new analysis shows us more clearly than ever before just how big a part of the picture NO2 pollution is,” said Greenpeace air pollution campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta.

“Just as we have nowhere to hide from the dirty air impacting our daily lives, so too do the polluters have nowhere to hide. This new satellite is our ‘eye in the sky’, from which the culprits – coal burning industry and oil guzzling transport – cannot escape. It is now up to governments to act, with all the policy measures and technologies we have at our disposal, to clean up our air and save lives.”

One of Australia’s largest hotspots was found in Sydney, ranked 40th globally, and around the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, where two coal-fired power plants are located.

Newcastle general practitioner and clean air campaigner Dr Ben Ewald said the results were alarming but did not come as a surprise.

“NO2 is a health risk because of its key role in ozone formation. Ozone is formed by the action of sunlight on NO2 and other pollutants such as unburned fuel in vehicle exhaust, and is more of a problem in summer. The satellite data indicates locations with high NO2 production which will be prone to ozone formation. Ozone causes asthma attacks in sensitive people, and may cause chronic lung disease so it is important to minimise human exposure,” Dr Ewald said.

The potential for controls on pollution to improve the quality of people’s live is enormous. In the EU alone, for instance, cleaning up NO2 pollution could save up to 75,000 lives per year.[1]

The list of the largest NO2 hotspots in the world includes well known coal-fired power plants in South Africa, Germany and India, and a total of nine ten coal power and industrial clusters in China.

The global number one hotspot is Mpumalanga in South Africa, home to a cluster of a dozen coal fired power plants. The number two spot is occupied by China’s steel producing capital Tangshan, and number three by Santiago de Chile, due to its transportation emissions.

The analysis is based on new, publicly available data produced by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5P satellite between 1 June and 31 August 2018. Greenpeace is the first organisation to process the data into averaged NO2 levels on a gridded map. The EDGAR global emissions inventory was overlaid with the satellite data to indicate the probable major sources of NO2 emissions in each hotspot. See the media briefing for a full explanation of the methodology.

There are clear solutions to the air pollution crisis. First and foremost, with coal the number one source of NO2 emissions, governments need to rapidly move their energy systems away from reliance on coal and toward renewable technologies. For those regions, such as major cities, whose air pollution comes from the transport system, comprehensive plans to move away from combustion engine vehicles, particularly diesel, to electric powered public transportation will help to provide clean air for all city residents.

Air pollution is a major public health crisis that the world is just waking up to,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Campaigner Alix Foster Vander Elst said.

“A recent report by the World Health Organisation puts the death toll from air pollution at more than seven million people a year, with more than 90 percent of the global population breathing toxic air. In Australia we know that emissions from coal plants are a major contributor to the toxic air we breathe. A simple way to address this slow-burning crisis would be to rapidly phase out coal fired power generation and speed up the transition to 100 percent renewable energy.”   




Media briefing



Greenpeace Australia Pacific Communications Campaigner Martin Zavan, 0424 295 422

[email protected]

Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)