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Top 20: London’s Six Airports Responsible for Highest Aviation Pollution

London is ranked first followed by Tokyo and Dubai, while Los Angeles and New York are the top cities in the United States

by Fergus Cole

March 4, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Muromtsev / Unsplash

With no less than six international airports, London is more affected by aviation pollution than any other city in the world, according to a new report produced by think tanks ODI and Transport & Environment.

The 2024 Airport Tracker report analyzed flight emission data from 1,300 international airports worldwide, considering both passenger flights and air freight. It tracked a combination of carbon (CO2) emissions, nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from each airport to calculate what environmental and health impacts this had on each city these airports served.

While Dubai International Airport (DXB) was found to be the world’s most polluting with a total of 20.1 metric tons of CO2 emitted in 2019, London’s combination of six airports—Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Stansted (STN), Luton (LTN), City (LCY), and Southend (SEN)—means the U.K. capital is the world’s worst city for aviation-created air pollution.

Photo: London City Airport. Courtesy of Andrew Baker

These airports emitted 8,861 tons of NOx and 83 tons of PM2.5 in 2019, the equivalent of 3.23 million passenger cars.

Dubai and Tokyo were the next worst affected cities, with an equivalent of 2.78 million cars emissions each.

The most polluted city from aviation emissions in the U.S. is New York, with John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Newark Liberty (EWR), and LaGuardia (LGA) producing emissions equivalent to 2.42 million cars. The only other cities in the U.S. to make the top 20 are Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Top 20 cities with most aviation pollution:

5New YorkUnited States42.42
7Sao PauloBrazil32.12
9SeoulSouth Korea21.95
11Hong KongHong Kong11.84
13AtlantaUnited States11.79
17Los AngelesUnited States11.52
17ChicagoUnited States11.52

“Pollution around airports is growing year on year,” said Jo Dardenne, aviation director at Transport & Environment. “It affects millions of people, who breathe in toxic emissions and develop health conditions as a result, yet policymakers are brushing the problem under the carpet.

“Exponential growth of the sector and airports is incompatible with their climate goals, especially considering the slow uptake of clean technologies. The sector led us to believe that they would bounce back better after the pandemic. They’ve certainly bounced back – but without action, the sector’s climate and health impact isn’t going to get any better.”

The report also broke down the most polluting airports by region, with Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) revealed to be the worst in North America, emitting a total of 18.7 metric tons of CO2 in 2019. This was followed by JFK in second place and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) in third.

Top 20 U.S. cities with most aviation pollution:

RankAirportTotal CO2
1Los Angeles (LAX)18.7
2New York John F. Kennedy (JFK)14.7
3Chicago O’Hare (ORD)11.2
4San Francisco (SFO)11.1
5Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)9.7
6Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)8.3
7Newark Liberty (EWR)8.1
8Toronto Pearson (YYZ)7.7
9Memphis (MEM)7.5
10Miami (MIA)7.4
11Anchorage (ANC)6.9
12Louisville (SDF)6.3
13Seattle/Tacoma (SEA)6.2
14Houston George Bush (IAH)5.7
15Denver (DEN)5.3
16Boston Logan (BOS)5.0
17Honolulu (HNL)4.7
18Vancouver (YVR)4.6
19Philadelphia (PHL)4.5
20Washington Dulles (IAD)4.4