Influencing city decision making for a future with clean air

Over the past four years the ClairCity project has been gathering public opinion on the policies they would like to see implemented to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Over 800,000 citizens were engaged in some way, with over 9,000 direct engagements. The project developed mobile games and apps, hosted workshops and webinars, attended public events, ran school lessons and reached out to marginalised communities to involve a representative group as possible in city decision making across six European cities and regions (Amsterdam, The Aveiro Region, Bristol, The Liguria Region, Ljubljana and Sosnowiec).

After citizens preferences were gathered, they were sense checked with policy makers and then modelled to determine whether their ideas could lower carbon emissions and air pollutants faster than business as usual – and overall they did! While citizens often agree with most of the policies already on the table, they ask for greater speed and implementation to reach net zero carbon emissions and pollution levels that meet WHO guidelines.

For their ambitions to be realised, the loop has to be closed between what citizens want and decision making, from local and regional and beyond. Given the set up of the ClairCity project, it was uniquely placed to facilitate this feedback mechanism. Comprised of universities and SMEs, the project already had established connections with local government and lobbying organisations. Thus, following the production of policy reports for each case study, each local/regional team presented the results to these actors.

In Bristol, the team presented their report to the Bristol Climate Change Advisory Committee, appointed by the current government to inform their work in this area, and sent the report to 80 local Councillors and MPs.

In the Aveiro Region, their report was translated into Portuguese and emailed to the Intermunicipal Community of Aveiro region (CIRA) and government representatives. Given the restrictions placed by Lockdown, it was not possible to present in person by the time the report was available.

Similarly, Sosnowiec had their report translated into the local language of Polish and forwarded it to over 30 governmental departments, government representatives and lobbying groups. The Mayor of Sosnowiec then decided to discuss the policy package during the joint meeting of the Mayor and all his deputies. The Chairman of the City Council obliged all members of the Sosnowiec City Council to familiarise themselves with the contents of the Package and in August, the document was discussed in detail by 2 committees of the City Council:

  1. the Committee for City Development and Environmental Protection
  2. the Committee on Municipal Economy and Communication

The Chairman has invited members of the ClairCity working team in Sosnowiec to participate in the meetings.

While we may not know exactly what role ClairCity played in influencing local and regional decision making it is clear that the project team have laid seeds in the minds of various influential actors, who are interested to take a closer look at the results and what they mean.

All of the case studies had to rethink their dissemination activities in light of COVID 19 and understandably this has become a priority for decision makers. However, in spite of this, these issues still want to be discussed. Perhaps it is even because of the growing evidence linking air pollution, health impacts and viral risks that these conversations are gaining traction. Either way, for these six cities and regions, there exists policy packages for each of them that can make inroads in addressing multiple interrelated development issues, which are not only ambitious but have the backing of citizens. We hope these packages will continue to be shared and we welcome interest from other cities and regions looking to carry out similar co-creation processes for cleaner air, healthier citizens and equitable outcomes.

Watch our policy webinar to learn more about the policy packages and our co-creation process, and read the policy briefs here.

Citizens at the Centre

Citizens engaging policy-makers on air quality and climate change

How do we get to the scenario in the top-right hand corner of the above image? A scenario where a given city is both ambitious about its clean air and climate change policies and its citizens are involved in the decision-making process? That is the question sustainability scientists have been grappling with for a number of years, and that the ClairCity project sought to explore. Drawing on the latest social and political science and pollution modelling, the research team set to work in understanding the context of their partner cities and regions, engaging citizens through various creative means to gather their preferences, and presenting the outcomes to key city decision makers to influence decision making*.

Around 820,000 citizens were involved in some way or another, with approximately 8,500 directly engaged. The project spoke with people on the streets, at festivals, on webinars, and through various formal and distributed dialogues across each city or region to increase representivity. There was a mobile game, videos of people’s lived experiences, and various schools’ lessons and activities, all designed to spread the ClairCity message and capture the voice of citizens. The project was the largest of its kind and perhaps one of the most creative.

And what did it find out? An overwhelming willingness by citizens to change, and a real appetite for greater policy ambition and speed of implementation. For instance, citizens that drive today, largely want to drive less in the future and choose more sustainable alternatives for their commuting, shopping and leisure trips – across all cities and regions. Many want to choose renewable fuels in the future also, although cost is a big barrier for some cities across Europe. In some cities a lack of awareness on certain sources of air pollutants, in particular wood burners, may be a limiting factor to citizens’ ambition – or alternatively, citizens may not feel able to challenge authorities to do something about these issues and therefore choose not to raise them**. All in all, the willingness was there, but more often than not barriers existed to prevent change from happening sooner.

When local citizens’ top policies were presented to policy makers in their city or region many agreed with their level of ambition, although in some instances they were slowed down, largely as a result of cost. As always with politics, a lot of negotiation and compromise is involved, often bound tightly by purse strings. However, as has been shown in Amsterdam, sometimes you can get a situation where the local government is so ambitious that its citizens are rushing to keep up.

As ClairCity comes to a close in 2020, Covid19 has proven to be a window of opportunity in which to accelerate air quality improvements across Europe. While an awful tragedy, the pandemic opened up fertile ground to push for more ambitious walking and cycling policies. Although the intention was to make places safer for public health (and indeed air pollution worsens coronavirus), the result is still the same – fewer cars on the road and more people on the streets. In The Netherlands they initiated Holiday Streets, in London, England the Mayor committed himself to making central London one of the largest car free spaces seen anywhere in the world, and in Milan, Italy they announced plans to turn 35km of streets to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians. And to ensure the environmental message wasn’t lost, Extinction Rebellion activists took cycle lanes into their own hands in several cities across the UK.

Ultimately, we all have a part to play in acting on these issues. Beyond individual change and technofixes, real momentum can be built through joining together as communities to amplify the message and show the will of citizens, and if done in dialogue with people in positions of power, there is a chance policy may begin to change.

As a result of the ClairCity project, we’ve produced a whole host of resources to support such groups! We have an Educator Pack full of lesson plans and activities, including postcards to send to people of influence and Clean Air Top Trump cards – print them out and use in your next schools outreach day. There’s also our Community Activator Pack, for activists old and new, wishing to reach more marginalised voices and champion their voices in decision-making. Every person’s actions makes a difference, but by joining together we can have a unified voice of the many to bring about change.

Join us this Thursday for our final webinar, which will see organisations from across Bristol sharing their experiences of engaging diverse audiences around these issues and championing their voice to influence decision making.

*Find out more about the process here:

*Find out about the priorities of citizen’s in each of our cities and regions here:

Clean Air walking tips

As part of Bristol Walking Festival 2018, the ClairCity team put on our trainers and took a short but informative walk around central Bristol. Air Quality Officer Andrew Edwards from Bristol City Council led the walk, showing attendees how the council monitor the air, the issues facing the city and some tips on how to avoid and reduce the air pollution themselves.

For a downloadable flyer version of the information, please see our Resources page.

  • Use the car less when you can, especially if you drive a diesel

    • You are still exposed to air pollution even if you are inside a car, so being in traffic is not safe.
    • 40% of pollution (nitrogen dioxide) in Bristol’s city centre is from diesel cars.
  • Increase your distance from traffic wherever possible

    • Walk along the section of the pavement furthest from vehicles. Even an increase of 1 metre can help.
    • Choose side roads rather than the main road when you have the option.
  • Avoid busy roads

    • When you have the option, always try to walk upwind of the pollution from vehicles
    • If possible avoid busy roads at peak times e.g. during the rush hours when traffic and pollution levels are generally higher
  • If you are particularly sensitive to pollution (e.g. heart condition, severe asthma etc) watch out for alerts on BBC weather forecasts.

    • For most people, it will still be better to use active travel and get some exercise (e.g. walking or cycling) on higher pollution days.
    • By not using the car you are reducing the overall amount of pollution, and exercise has many benefits for our physical and mental health.

The story behind ClairCity

Our project team have been working across academia, government and civil society to share the ClairCity project. We are sharing our outcomes, but also explaining the theory behind the project, why we think it is important to involve citizens in air quality research projects and how we have put this in action within ClairCity. Here are two presentations that give some of the academic background and communication strategy behind the project.

This presentation was given at the Bristol Natural History Consortium “Communicate 2017” seminar series by Tim Chatterton, Corra Boushel and Laura Fogg Rogers to an audience of academics and practitioners in science communication.

The following presentation by Corra Boushel focuses on the communications strategy for ClairCity for EASME – the European Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises. This presentation was part of an event aimed at other European funded projects who are planning their communications.

Society vs the Individual: How can we work together to enable behaviour change?

As part of the first National Clean Air Day in the UK, ClairCity staff from UWE Bristol presented to an audience for the Bristol Natural History Consortium ‘Communicate’ seminar series.

The seminar, entitled “Society vs the Individual: How can we work together to enable behaviour change?” was led by Tim Chatterton, Laura Fogg Rogers and Corra Boushel. As part of the Q&A, an engaged audience discussed the role of legislation, the discourses and assumptions around ‘barriers’ and ‘social conventions’ and whether or not it’s acceptable to cycle and present seminars.

The full slides are available to download, including references ClairCity Society vs Individual NCAD Bristol 2017

Also see the project press release for National Clean Air Day.

Greater pollution impact on poorer communities

Science for Environment Policy, the news and information service published by the European Commission, have released a new In-depth Report on Socioeconomic status and noise and air pollution. They state:

“Air pollution and noise pollution have a negative impact on all of society — but some groups are more affected
than others. Lower socioeconomic status is generally associated with poorer health, and both air and
noise pollution contribute to a wide range of other factors influencing human health. But do these health
inequalities arise because of increased exposure to pollution, increased sensitivity to exposure, increased
vulnerabilities, or some combination? This In-depth Report presents evidence on whether people in deprived
areas are more affected by air and noise pollution – and suffer greater consequences – than wealthier populations.”
For more information visit SfEP.

ClairCity official launch May 2016

ClairCity, the largest citizen-led air-quality project ever in Europe, kicked off on May 25th 2016 in Bristol.

A consortium of universities and research institutions, led by Trinomics from The Netherlands, won a €6,7 million EU funded project to actively engage European citizens in 6 countries to research their personal impact on air quality and carbon emissions in their cities. The project will use innovative tools like especially made apps and games to generate citizen-led policies to improve air-related health in our cities.

Thousands of people across Europe will be invited to share their views on how to reduce air pollution and improve public health in six pilot cities. Residents can use digital engagement as well as face-to-face events and workshops to suggest how their home cities should develop in the future. Through working closely with cities, the results will be directly translated into improved city policies.

The four-year ClairCity project, funded through the EU’s Horizon 2020 program, features 16 research partners including the pilot cities of Bristol (UK); Amsterdam (Netherlands); Aveiro region (Portugal); Ljubljana (Slovenia); Sosnowiec (Poland) and the Liguria region (Italy).

European and local authorities are struggling to combat air pollution, a problem responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 people in Europe every year. Up to a third of Europeans in cities are exposed to pollutant levels exceeding EU air quality standards, with approximately 90 per cent affected according to the World Health Organization’s more stringent guidelines. ClairCity aims to create a major shift in public understanding towards the causes of poor air quality – encouraging a focus on people’s everyday practices like commuting and shopping rather than technology and top-down approaches.

Dr Enda Hayes (UWE, Bristol), Technical Director of CLAiR-City, said: “Air quality management is failing in many cities around the world. This is an exciting and innovative project to try to address one of the key issues – how do you empower citizens to define their own solution?”