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Cop28 ‘pollution pods’ allow visitors to see, taste and smell the dirty air in world’s biggest cities

Among the most striking exhibits at the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai are the “Pollution Pods”.

The domes, which have an air of futuristic greenhouse about them, are simulations of the air pollution levels in three cities: Beijing, London and New Delhi.

The pods were created by British artist, Michael Pinsky, and allow people to feel, taste and smell what air quality is like for most of the global population.

Pinsky has created this immersive experience using a recipe that emulates the presence of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide that pollute these cities.

London’s pollution largely comes from transportation powered by fossil fuels - a problem that a combination of low-emission zones, more public transportation and improvements for cycling is chipping away at.

New Delhi faces severe pollution, particularly in winter when agricultural burning combines with already-high levels of industry and vehicle particulates. Last month,The Independent reported how months of relentless air pollution in the Indian capital was leaving bon-smokers in their twenties and thirties with “smokers’ lungs”.

The government has tried to boost cleaner fuels but the impact has been limited. (The Independent’s Stuti Mishra, a resident of New Delhi, tried out the pollution pods on Tuesday, and can confirm that the one representing her city was very much spot-on.)

Beijing also suffers from very unhealthy air due to vehicles, industry and high coal use. The impacts are clear: More than seven million people die prematurely each year from air pollution, according to the Clean Air Fund, the philanthropic group behind the exhibit.

“Air pollution is a trans-boundary issue, it’s not limited to one place,” Jenaina Irani, analyst at Clean Air Fund, told The Independent.

“You can really feel the levels of air pollution and how they change from London to Delhi. Air pollution is an urgent issue and action on clean air is a climate issue.”

While cutting air pollution would have big benefits for public health, it’s not the only upside. Pollutants and greenhouse gases often come from the same place - meaning that detoxing the air we breathe can better our chances at staying close to 1.5C.