Air quality in United Arab Emirates

Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in United Arab Emirates

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Real-time United Arab Emirates
Most polluted city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1The national flag of International Ras Al Khaimah, Ra's al Khaymah


2The national flag of International Dubai, Dubai


3The national flag of International Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi


4The national flag of International Al Ain, Abu Dhabi


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Real-time United Arab Emirates
Cleanest city ranking

#cityUS AQI
1The national flag of International Al Ain, Abu Dhabi


2The national flag of International Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi


3The national flag of International Dubai, Dubai


4The national flag of International Ras Al Khaimah, Ra's al Khaymah


(local time)


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How polluted is United Arab Emirates?

The national flag of International

2023 Air quality average

Human face indicating AQI level

Unhealthy for sensitive groups

2023 average US AQI





2023 average PM2.5 concentration in United Arab Emirates: 8.6 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value

2023  United Arab Emirates cleanest city Abu Dhabi , Abu Dhabi


2023  United Arab Emirates most polluted city Ras Al Khaimah , Ra's al Khaymah


2023 aqi country ranking

How does United Arab Emirates rank globally in air pollution?


Which country had the worst air quality in 2023?

1The national flag of InternationalBangladesh169,356,251


2The national flag of InternationalPakistan231,402,117


3The national flag of InternationalIndia1,407,563,842


4The national flag of InternationalTajikistan9,750,064


5The national flag of InternationalBurkina Faso22,100,683


6The national flag of InternationalIraq43,533,592


7The national flag of InternationalUnited Arab Emirates9,365,145


8The national flag of InternationalNepal30,034,989


9The national flag of InternationalEgypt109,262,178


10The national flag of InternationalDemocratic Republic of the Congo95,894,118




How bad are pollution levels in the United Arab Emirates?

United Arab Emirates, otherwise known as the UAE or more simply Emirates, is a country located in the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula. It shares borders with other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as facing onto the Persian Gulf.

In regards to its levels of pollution, Emirates came in with a countrywide reading of 38.94 μg/m³ in 2019, in regards to its levels of PM2.5 in the air. PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, making it approximately 3% the size of an average human hair. Due to this incredibly small size, PM2.5 is a major component in the calculation of overall air pollution levels due to the danger it poses on the health of people who breathe it. As such it will be referred to for assessing the air quality levels in the UAE.

The aforementioned PM2.5 reading of 38.94 μg/m³ was enough to place UAE into the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ pollution bracket, which requires a reading of anywhere between 35.5 to 55.4 μg/m³ to be classed as such. This shows that despite being placed into a somewhat negative ratings bracket, that poses significant health risks to vulnerable portions of the population, it came in on the lower end of it, with a few units less enough to move it down to the ‘moderate’ ratings bracket, perhaps attainable in the near future with more green initiatives being put into place across the various cities.

Emirates 2019 reading of 38.94 μg/m³ placed it into 12th place out of all countries ranked worldwide, coming in just behind China and Iraq. The most polluted city in the UAE was Dubai, which also came in with a PM2.5 reading of 40.9 μg/m³, putting it into the same grouping bracket (unhealthy for sensitive groups) as well as 222nd place out of all cities ranked worldwide.

With its 12th place position, it is indicative that the UAE is suffering from a number of pollution related issues, many of them having become more prominent over the last few years, due largely in part to how their economy is based, as well as the unsustainable nature of many activities going on within the country.

As its group name suggests, citizens who have a disposition towards being affected by pollution levels will be particularly at risk, with young children, expectant mothers, the elderly and unwell all fitting the bill for those who could suffer adverse effects as a result of breathing unclean air in the country. Whilst there are certainly pollutive issues, there are some cities that do come in with better qualities of air, such as Ras Al Khaimah, with certain months of its year coming in with readings that fell within the World Health Organizations (WHO) target goal for clean air, which will be discussed in detail shortly.

So, to close, the United Arab Emirates has its own fair share of pollution problems, that are pertinent enough for them to start taking large steps towards trying to rectify the situation.

What are the main causes of pollution in the United Arab Emirates?

Emirates sees its main causes of pollution being similar in nature to many countries in the region as well as the rest of the world, whilst having several factors unique to it as a nation due to socio-cultural elements of the newly developed aspects of its society.

Among the more common causes of pollution would be the ever present factor of vehicular emissions, particularly prominent in cities such as Dubai where personal vehicles are crucial for day to day life to navigate the city, with vehicle ownership and their emissions staying consistently high (although of note that over the 2020 lockdown period, significant improvements were seen in pollution levels with the widescale movement restrictions taking place, showing just how much of an effect human movement and subsequent pollutive output has on the environment).

Other main causes of pollution are industrial sites, with numerous factories and processing plants dotting the different cities across the country, many of which would run off of fossil fuels such as coal or diesel (along with many heavy duty vehicles such as lorries, trucks and buses also running off diesel, contributing further to pollution levels).

With much of UAE’s economy based around the extraction and use of natural resources, it is inevitable that the continuation of this industry would not only lead to degradation of the environment, but also a further worsening of air pollution levels over the previous decades. With a boom in population as well infrastructure, there would be the subsequent large scale building of houses, flats, hotels and factories, all of which would require energy supplied by the burning of their natural resources.

The combustion of coal and diesel leads to large amounts of chemical compounds and fine particulate matters entering into the atmosphere, causing widespread pollution problems. So, in finishing, vehicular usage, factory emissions, as well as other smaller contributing factors such as geography and meteorological conditions playing a part (with a lack of trees and precipitation not helping in regards to cleaning the air out), as well as widespread overuse of natural resources due to their abundance in the region.

When is United Arab Emirates air quality at its worse?

Observing the data taken across the four registered cities in the country, a pattern emerges regarding spikes in pollution or PM2.5 numbers. Using data taken from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the middle portion of the year is when pollution is at its highest in both of them, something that is also apparent in the city of Sharjah. From April to May, a significant worsening of PM2.5 readings are shown, with both Dubai and Abu Dhabi coming in at 23.9 μg/m³ and 26.5 μg/m³ in May respectively. From thereon, this number climbed up to 44.1 μg/m³ and 41.2 μg/m³ in across both cities in June, readings that represent a jump of nearly double that of the previous month.

These elevated readings coincide with the summer season in UAE, with extremely high temperatures and high humidity becoming prominent, both of which can compound pollution levels, with the high heat and excesses of strong sunlight causing chemical reactions to take place on the ground level, creating pollutants such as ozone (O­3) to form.

Referring back to the two cities, the pollution levels continue to rise in June, with Dubai going from 44.1 μg/m³ in May to 59 μg/m³ in June. This new reading represents a jump up into another grouping, the ‘unhealthy’ ratings group which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 55.5 to 150.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. These unhealthy rated months continue until August, with readings of 55.7 μg/m³ in July as well as 58 μg/m³ in August. This shows that June was the most polluted month of the year in 2019 for Dubai, with Abu Dhabi also seeing its most polluted month in August at 55.7 μg/m³.

The city of Sharjah also saw its most polluted month in June with a reading of 51.1 μg/m³, whilst the cleanest city out of the whole country, Ras Al Khaimah, was at its most polluted in October at 48 μg/m³. all of these readings are indicative that the summer months are when pollution levels will be at their worst, with the high humidity and extreme heat compounding the pollutive issues of car emissions and well as smoke from factories and other industries.

The air quality is very poor at this time and those who have a sensitivity towards chemicals and pollutants would be well off in taking preventative measures such as the wearing of high quality particle filtering masks, as available on site, or by staying up to date on daily pollution readings via the use of the AirVisual app.

Where is the air at its cleanest in the United Arab Emirates?

As touched on previously, the cleanest city in the whole country is Ras Al Khaimah, which came in with a yearly average of 20.9 μg/m³ over 2019, putting it in the moderate ratings bracket. This may be largely due to its geographical location, being at the northernmost point of the country and famous for its beaches, thus being subject to the strong coastal winds that come with such a location.

It saw the cleanest readings of air in the UAE from the months of January through to April, with readings of 9.9 μg/m³, 8.2 μg/m³, 9 μg/m³ and 11.1 μg/m³ respectively, making February the cleanest month out of the entire year and with 3 of those months coming within the WHO’s target goal, as well as April coming in with a ‘good’ air quality rating, which requires a very fine margin of 10 to 12 μg/m³ to be classified as such. To close, the first four months of the year in Ras Al Khaimah is where the cleanest level of air quality can be found in the UAE, out of all cities registered so far.

What are the main pollutants found in the air in the United Arab Emirates?

With nearly all of its pollution arising as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, much of the pollutants in the air in the UAE would be based around the combustion of these materials. There would be other factors such as fine particulate matters emanating from areas such as construction sites or building up in areas of high traffic, with ones such as finely ground silica dust being a prominent (and carcinogenic) form of PM10 or PM2.5 coming from construction sites, as well as black carbon finding its creation from the combustion of fossil fuels, and as such would be emitted from both vehicles that run on diesel, as well as factories and industrial areas.

Other materials released from the combustion of coal include volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which can include among them chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, methylene chloride and ethylene glycol. All of these have a highly detrimental effect on human health, and due to their ‘volatile’ nature are able to become gases at much lower temperatures, thus making them easier to respire and of greater risk to those that do.

Other pollutants found in the air include nitrogen and sulfur dioxides, released from both vehicles as well as the burning of coal. Other contaminants released by the combustion of coal includes heavy and dangerous metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Other pollutants would include ozone (O3), caused largely by the buildup of vehicle fumes on the roads and when subject to the high levels of heat and solar radiation, undergo a reaction and covert into ozone. Whilst it is a vital component in the stratosphere, on ground level it can cause significant damage to people who inhale it, with lung damage, chest pain and throat irritation all being possible upon short term exposure.

These would be but a small number of pollutants found in the air, with ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) being the most prominent due to the large amounts of traffic related pollution built up in the major cities.

What are some health issues related to pollution in the United Arab Emirates?

With pollutants such as ozone and black carbon present in the troposphere (ground level), as mentioned before, ozone can cause instant respiratory distress to those that are exposed to it, and with its formation dependent on preexisting chemicals reacting with high levels of sunlight, ozone thus finds its creation in abundance on ground level in the UAE.

Prolonged exposure to ozone can cause raised instances of premature death, particularly to those who are caught in areas where large amount of ozone formation takes place, or even downwind of it. Of note is that nitrogen dioxide along with VOC’s are large contributors to the creation of ozone.

Besides these heightened mortality rates, it can cause shortness of breath and obstruction to the airways, aggravated asthma attacks, inflammation to the lung tissue as well as a greater susceptibility to throat and chest infections. Those with preexisting medical conditions will be at even greater risk and may find themselves returning to hospital far more often due to their illnesses progressively becoming worse.

With the aforementioned black carbon also being present in the air, particularly in areas of high traffic as well as near industrial sites, damage can occur to the lung tissues as well as the rest of the body, due to the incredibly small size of this particulate matter, able to cross over the blood barrier via the lungs and make its way to the rest of the body via the circulatory system. This would cause damage to the blood vessels, the kidneys and liver as well as affecting the reproductive system. These are but a few of the possible negative health effects that arise when exposed to higher levels of pollution in the United Arab Emirates.

United Arab Emirates air quality data attribution


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