Greenpeace analysis ranks global SO2 air pollution hotspots

New Delhi, India – Power plants and industries burning coal and oil are responsible for two-thirds of the anthropogenic sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission hotspots tracked by NASA satellites, according to a Greenpeace India analysis. Oil refineries and metals smelters are the other major sources worldwide.

SO2 is one of the main contributors to human death and disease from air pollution across the planet. The ranking of global SO2 emission hotspots demonstrates the need for stronger emission standards for power plants and industry and a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

Lauri Myllyvirta, Senior Analyst, at Greenpeace Nordic, said:

“The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas is the largest source of emissions of SO2 resulting in disastrous air pollution and premature deaths. Clean energy could save billions of dollars in health costs and thousands of lives every year. It’s fundamental that governments rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and set stronger emission standards as they shift over to sustainable alternatives.”

Sunil Dahiya, Campaign Specialist, at Greenpeace East Asia, said:

“Air pollution and the climate emergency share the same solution. Governments across the world owe it to citizens to stop investing in fossil fuels and shift to safer, more sustainable sources of energy.”

Findings from the report include:

  • India is the top emitter of SO2 in the world, making up more than 15% of global anthropogenic SO2 emissions, having recently overtaken Russia and China.
  • In terms of individual hotspots, the Norilsk smelter complex in Russia continues to be the largest SO2 emission hotspot in the world followed by Kriel in Mpumalanga province in South Africa and Zagroz in Iran.
  • There are 12 coal-fired power stations in Mpumalanga province in South Africa, making the province the largest SO2 emission hotspot in the world from power generation.
  • Saudi Arabia is the largest SO2 emitter in the Middle East with Makkah province home to the worst hotspots because of the polluting oil-based power plants, industries and refinery facilities in the region.
  • In Europe, Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria are in the list of the worst 20 SO2 emitting countries in the world.
  • Australia still lacks any legal provisions to limit or reduce SO2 emissions from its power plants, whilst U.S., China and Europe are moving ahead in restricting SO2 emissions through stricter limits.



[1] To accompany the briefing there is an online interactive map of the world’s worst sources of SO2 pollution, which allows further exploration of emission hotspots across different regions.

[2] Access the report here.

[3] The database can be found here.


Greenpeace International Press Desk:, +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)

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