Around 97% of the people globally live in regions where air pollution levels exceed the threshold identified as optimum as per World Health Organisation’s (WHO) revised air quality guidelines released last year. But some regions are making progress in reducing pollution. China has managed to achieve a 40% reduction in PM 2.5 levels since 2013. Air pollution levels in India have continued to increase, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC)’s Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) released on Tuesday. In an interview with HTChrista Hasenkopf, the director of AQLI and Air Quality Programs at EPIC, said financial and public commitment to reducing air pollution was a huge factor in China’s success. Edited excerpts:

How is AQLI different this year?

This year, there is new data. Data from 2020, as opposed to previous years, and we are incorporating new World Health Organisation PM 2.5 guidelines, which are much stricter. So those are the two new updates.

Why has not there been an improvement in air quality even as the Indian government has announced measures such as the National Clean Air Programme?

Since 1998, India’s annual average particulate pollution has increased by 61.4%… [it is] currently… the world’s second most polluted country. …over the past few years, the trend in pollution has been ticking upwards but …at a much slower pace than previously. I think this comes down to pollution being a very stubborn problem and cleaning it up requires a sustained effort over a long period. I think the proactive steps the government of India has begun taking and states that have begun making their air pollution action plans give us hope. That is how I will frame the progress.