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United Kingdom

Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK and causes 40,000 early deaths each year. We work with partners to raise awareness of air pollution and demand action.

Air pollution in the UK

In towns and cities across the UK, air pollution frequently hits illegal levels that are harmful to everyone, especially those most vulnerable. High air pollution harms public health and cuts lives short.

In recent years, air pollution levels have regularly exceeded national legal limits and international guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Court cases (in the UK’s High Court and the European Court of Justice) have shown the UK Government is “systematically and persistently” breaching air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide, which is toxic to humans. Ministers have been ordered to provide air quality plans to address the problem. 

early deaths every year in the UK
annual benefit to the economy if the UK had clean air

Our research with CBI Economics suggests that, if air quality in the UK were to meet WHO guidelines, 17,000 deaths could be prevented each year and the economy would benefit from an annual boost of £1.6bn. 

We know that people in the UK want to breathe cleaner air. Air pollution is one of the of the top three public health concerns in the UK, with almost seven in ten citizens supporting stricter regulation to tackle air pollution, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the Clean Air Fund in 2020.  

If you live near a busy road, you are more likely to have asthma, you’re more likely to be impacted by air pollution — and black and Asian people are more likely to live in urban areas.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah – Founder, Director and Trustee of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation

Tackling the UK’s air pollution crisis

The Clean Air Fund’s work in the UK includes: 

  • Supporting the introduction or expansion of Clean Air Zones in cities 
  • Advocating for World Health Organisation air quality targets to be enshrined in UK law
  • Building public engagement on air pollution
  • Encouraging businesses to reduce their air pollution emissions.

Here are some of the projects we’ve funded:

Asthma + Lung UK established campaigner networks in UK cities to raise awareness of the health effects of air pollution and advocate for more ambitious clean air policies. The work included securing an air pollution storyline on the soap opera Coronation Street in August 2021.

Imperial College analysed how far existing and anticipated government policies would go towards achieving the WHO’s interim target of WHO-10 by 2030. The results showed that the WHO-10 target could be achieved across 99.8% of the country by 2030. The evidence was also used to respond to the government’s consultation of the proposed new target.

Breathe London was a world-first monitoring network combining 100 low-cost sensor pods with high quality measurement techniques. The project showed that low-cost sensor systems and mobile monitoring are valid ways to generate useful data. The initiative raised awareness of air pollution across London, and delivered policy change within boroughs and the Greater London Authority (GLA).

An example of our UK work: Breathe London

Breathe London is an historic grantee of Clean Air Fund. It is now supported by the Greater London Authority.


See more on the UK

UK Government challenged on “weak” proposed air pollution targets

Clean air campaigners criticise the UK government’s proposed air quality target

UK could meet WHO safety targets by 2030 if Government deliver on pledged reforms

New research makes a powerful case for the Government to adopt ambitious air quality target