The air quality in most Southeast Asian countries improved in 2022 over previous years. That’s according to IQAir, a Swiss company that provides real-time air quality monitoring in the world’s major cities(1). Last year, Cambodia boasted the cleanest air in the region. On the flip side, Indonesia’s air quality was the worst.
PM2.5 defines pollutant particles with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. Per World Health Organization air quality guidelines(2), an average annual exposure of PM2.5 should be no more than 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to avoid serious health risks.
IQAir found Indonesia’s air the 26th most polluted in the world. In 2022, its PM2.5 averaged 30.4 μg/m3. Laos (27.6 μg/m3) and Vietnam (27.2 μg/m3) ranked 29th and 30th most polluted. All three were coded Red.
Cleanest / Most Polluted SE Asia Air Quality
Based on 2022 air quality readings by IQAir , here are the cleanest Southeast Asian countries ranked:
- Cambodia: 8.3 μg/m3
- Singapore: 13.3 μg/m3
- Philippines: 14.9 μg/m3
- Malaysia: 17.7 μg/m3
- Thailand: 18.1 μg/m3
- Myanmar: 24.3 μg/m3
- Vietnam: 27.2 μg/m3
- Laos: 27.6 μg/m3
- Indonesia: 30.4 μg/m3
Most Polluted Air: Indonesia
Indonesia’s air quality scored a region-worst 30.4 μg/m3. But that marked an 11% decrease versus 2021. Jakarta improved its PM2.5 concentration for the third year in a row, with a 7.7% decrease since 2021.
Indonesian air pollution in Indonesia mainly comes from coal-fired power plants, forest fires, and peatland degradation. Major cities are also impacted by heavy vehicle emissions.
Recent regulatory actions include setting stricter vehicle emission standards, schemes to improve residential stoves, and proposals to make landowners and corporations responsible for fires on their land.
Cleanest Air: Cambodia
Cambodia scored the cleanest air quality rating in 2022: 8.3 μg/m3. Coincidentally, in Jan. 2022, the Ministry of Environment announced its Clean Air Plan Of Cambodia(3).
To reduce air pollution, the ministry received technical and financial assistance from the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership of the UN Environment Programme, and also the Stockholm Environment Institute of Sweden. Key measures(4) included:
- Raising standards for vehicle emissions.
- Transitioning the country’s cars to newer, less polluting vehicles.
- Manage dust and particle matter problems caused by construction.
- Improve cookstoves and shift from biomass to biogas for cooking.
Southeast Asian countries are making progress in cleaning up air pollution per WHO guidelines. Industry, power generation, vehicle emissions, and rural burning remain top PM2.5 contributors.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam governments are all using regulatory action to address these sources of ambient air pollution. PM2.5 concentrations decreased for 7/9 SE Asian countries.
Only Laos and Vietnam recorded higher annual averages versus 2021. Indonesia ended 2022 and 2021 with the worst air in the region. Meanwhile, Cambodia showed a remarkable 58% pollution decrease compared with 2021.
Beyond air pollution, raw sewage spewing into popular beaches is also a concern. To learn more on that pollution angle, see this:
- ‘IQAir World Air Quality Report 2022 Finds Only 5% of Countries Meet WHO PM2.5 Air Pollution Guideline’. March 14, 2023, https://www.iqair.com/newsroom/world-air-quality-report-press-release-2022, (accessed April 25, 2023).
- ‘What are the WHO Air quality guidelines?’ September 22, 2021, https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/what-are-the-who-air-quality-guidelines, (accessed April 25, 2023).
- Voun Dara. ‘Ministry issues Kingdom’s plan for air pollution’ January 26, 2022, https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/ministry-issues-kingdoms-plan-air-pollution, (accessed April 25, 2023).
- ‘Cambodia paving the way for cleaner air’ August 22, 2022, https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cambodia-paving-way-cleaner-air, (accessed April 25, 2023).