7. Environmental Quality

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is an air pollutant that can be inhaled and cause serious health problems, including both respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Nearly two-thirds of the population across OECD countries (63%) are exposed to levels of PM2.5 air pollution above the WHO threshold level (10 micrograms per cubic metre) thought to be dangerous to human health (Figure 7.2). In Canada, Estonia, Finland and New Zealand, fewer than 1% of people have an average annual exposure above the threshold level, while in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia all (or almost all) of the population are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. Among OECD Partner countries, the same is true also for Costa Rica and South Africa.

Between 2005 and 2017, the share of the population exposed to PM2.5 above 10 micrograms/m3 fell by 12 percentage points on average across OECD countries (Figure 7.2). The largest improvements occurred in Ireland, the United States, Portugal and Switzerland, where the share fell by 40 percentage points or more. There were no improvements in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, the Slovak Republic or Slovenia, where all (or almost all) the population remain exposed to PM2.5 above 10 micrograms/m3. This is again also the case for Costa Rica and South Africa.

Different threshold measures can be used to look at air pollution of different levels of severity (Figure 7.3). These reveal a more nuanced picture than a single threshold. For example, some countries with very high exposure rates at 10 and 15 micrograms/m3 (e.g. Hungary, Slovenia and the Slovak Republic) have almost no one exposed at the more severe 20 micrograms/m3 threshold. By contrast, in Chile and Korea, more than 40% of the population are exposed even at the more severe threshold level.

On average in European urban areas, 93% of people have access to public parks, forests or other recreational green spaces within 10 minutes’ walking distance from their home (Figure 7.4). In Austria, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden, this share exceeds 98% of the urban population, while in Iceland it is only two-thirds.

It remains challenging to measure horizontal inequalities, such as differences between men and women, by age and by education, in relation to Environmental Quality. However, information on exposure to air pollution is available at the regional (subnational) level, revealing stark differences within countries. For example, in Australia, Chile, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, Spain and Switzerland, the least polluted region has fewer than 1% of the population exposed to dangerous levels of PM2.5, while the most polluted region has 100% of the population exposed. Among OECD partner countries, this is also the case for Brazil and the Russian Federation (Figure 7.5).


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