Driving air pollution accountability and action via data transparency
99% of the world’s population experiences air pollution levels exceeding WHO guidelines, clearly necessitating action to limit our risk. Clean air is a basic human right and actionable data will drive change and promote environmental justice. A new breed of satellite monitoring instruments could enable an equitable transition towards clean air, provided coverage is global. The complex nature of air pollution suggests meaningful action plans cannot be developed without better monitoring. For example, restricting automobile traffic in a major city may not have the intended mitigating effect if more agricultural chemical by-products transit over the city. Ground-based instruments provide instantaneous data where it is most relevant for human health, but they only provide hyper-local information and may lead to the misallocation of resources or misrepresentation of reality based on their distribution. In addition, there is some evidence the ground-based instruments are not placed in the areas most prone to pollution, biasing our view of poor air quality. Unfortunately, previous generations of space-based instruments suffered from two critical issues – limited spatial and temporal resolution. While scientists have used satellites to generate snapshots of poor air quality, we still lack the data to fully understand regional variability. As a result, the world has been hampered in its attempts to ameliorate the devastating consequences of poor air quality for human health and ecosystems.