Welcome to the Clean Air Action Guide

Thank you for logging onto this Clean Air action guide. We hope you’ll find everything you need to help tackle air pollution, both where you live and across the country.

We’re really excited to have you involved – there are already lots of great stories unfolding of amazing campaigning, actions and events all over the UK to clean up our air.

Unfortunately, the UK government has not done nearly enough to tackle the problem of chronic air pollution. The action is nothing like on the scale necessary to sort out this public health emergency which causes up to 36,000 early deaths a year, triggers heart attacks and strokes, worsens respiratory disease, causes lung cancer and much more. The government’s much anticipated Air Quality Plan for nitrogen dioxide – published in July 2017 – was no way near sufficient, and was  declared unlawful in 2018. It focuses on an eye-catching announcement of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, which is far too far into the future, but will do little to end illegal air pollution now, or even anytime soon for many places.

Instead, the government has opted to pass the buck to councils to make difficult decisions, whilst not offering them enough in the way of support or funding to improve air quality.

So it’s time to shift the focus. We want to support your campaigns at a local level, particularly in large towns and cities, which have bigger incentives to tackle the problem and already have some powers to do so, and in many cases are now being required to act by the government.

You or your group is uniquely placed to inspire a campaign locally – a campaign which can build broad public and political support for real action on air pollution where you live.

For the UK’s worst polluted places a Clean Air Zone is what will be most effective. Campaigns focused on winning a Clean Air Zone have a real chance of making a difference. A Clean Air Zone is essentially an area where the worst-polluting vehicles are restricted from the most polluted places in order to improve the air for everybody. They’re a proven method of reducing both emissions and the impact of air pollution on many people’s health. They work in practice in European cities and also the UK government assessed them as the most effective way to cut pollution in the majority of places where pollution is worst - and other measures will be more suitable for other areas. However, Clean Air Zones can be a hard sell for politicians – lots of people don’t appreciate being told where they can and can’t drive. However opinion polling shows strong public support for them, even among motorists.

Every town and city will have a unique context, so it’s best to first work out if calling for a Clean Air Zone is the most appropriate thing to do, or not. Also a Clean Air Zone won’t be sufficient on its own –they are no good if there aren’t decent, clean public transport alternatives, safe walking and cycling, and lots of places to charge electric cars. So we’re here to help you figure out whether Clean Air Zone will best suit where you live, but also how to best plan and run your campaign.

To succeed you’ll also need to build and run your campaign with a broad and diverse range of allies in your area, especially with those people and communities most directly affected by air pollution.

In short, we think what’s needed are lots of powerful, engaging campaigns to tackle air pollution at a local level.

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In this guide

In this guide you’ll find useful advice and resources to support your work, including:


If you have any comments or suggestions on this guide, please contact us at cleanair@foe.co.uk.

The Clean Air Team at Friends of the Earth - Jenny Bates, Richard Dyer, Muna Suleiman, Stanley Knill and Aaron Kiely.

P.S. You can follow the latest developments in Friends of the Earth’s air pollution campaigning on our main campaign homepage.