Cleaner Air for Scotland – air quality public attitudes and behaviour: final report

Review of the existing evidence on public attitudes and behaviour related to air pollution to inform the draft of the new Cleaner Air for Scotland (CAFS) strategy.

1 Introduction

  • Introducing the premise for the report, i.e. context in relation to its contribution to CAFS Strategy.
  • Summary of the key findings of the CAFS Review
  • Background to the issues.
  • Specific assignment objectives

1.1 Cleaner Air for Scotland – Air Quality Public Attitudes & Behaviour Review

The scope of this project is to provide a review and assessment of the existing evidence that will inform the draft of the new Cleaner Air for Scotland (CAFS) strategy. An independent review of the current CAFS strategy in 2019[1] identified the need for more research on public knowledge, attitudes and concerns as well as on willingness to change behaviours to reduce air pollution in Scotland. Moreover, there is a need to identify the real and perceived barriers to change behaviours that generate air pollution. The scope also requires a critical review of methodologies implemented in public engagement on air quality and underpinning behaviour change methodologies. This research, therefore, highlights key recommendations for a public engagement strategy for air quality in Scotland to inform the new CAFS strategy and future public engagement approaches.

1.2 Relevance

1.2.1 The importance and rationale of this assignment

Around 1,700 premature deaths annually are associated with exposure to air pollution in Scotland[2], and 14 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities currently have longstanding Air Quality Management Areas, declared for exceedances of the national air quality objectives, mainly for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10)[3].

Scotland is a proactive and ambitious country in developing and implementing environmental policies, such as pursuing World Health Organization standards for PM2.5, implementing a framework of national Low Emission Zones, and setting zero-carbon targets for 2030 in Glasgow. However, it also faces significant challenges in achieving these goals, including climatic, economic and transboundary issues. Glasgow’s hosting of the UN climate summit, COP26 (now postponed until November 2021), provides an opportunity to help raise the profile of climate change and related issues and could act as a catalyst for driving forward necessary policies and measures.

Achievement of these air quality and carbon reduction ambitions could have significant benefits for Scotland, but requires support and action at all levels from national government to citizens. Public engagement is therefore key to improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions through supporting policies and changing behaviours. The Scottish Government’s phase out of new petrol and diesel cars by 2032[4] will necessarily enforce change on citizens, requiring adaptation and modification of behaviours. As the CAFS strategy review recommends, given the strict PM10 and PM2.5 objectives in Scotland, there is also a need to understand the contribution of domestic solid fuel burning to local air quality, and to also move away from gas sources, linking air quality policies with climate change and household energy efficiency. The importance of behaviour change in achieving carbon reduction goals is recognised by the UK Committee on Climate Change, which estimates that 60% of recommended interventions require some element of societal change[5]. Understanding how people currently contribute to emissions of air and climate pollutants is vital to influencing that behaviour[6]. Previous studies, including ClairCity (, have indicated that the public are concerned about air pollution, but feel ill-informed[7], despite education and awareness campaigns, e.g. As a result, reducing air pollution is not currently a major driving force for behaviour change and does not factor significantly in day-to-day decision-making[8].

Before undertaking public engagement, as advised in the 2019 CAFS strategy review, the Scottish Government therefore needs to understand the Scottish public’s current attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours towards air quality, and to identify successful approaches undertaken in other consultation and engagement activities that may be adopted and adapted for use in informing the new CAFS strategy.

1.3 Specific assignment objectives

In order to address the need for further evidence, the Scottish Government requested a literature review to fulfil the following objectives as outlined in the tender specifications:

1. Identify, review and synthesise up-to-date evidence on Scottish public attitudes, perceptions and behaviours towards air quality, to understand the key findings, robustness of evidence base and any outstanding gaps in the evidence:

  • Provide an updated summary and review of latest available information, drawn from both scientific and grey literature sources, covering past qualitative and quantitative studies of Scottish public attitudes and behaviours towards air quality.

2. Identify and review recent approaches to engaging the public on air quality, to understand effectiveness, limitations and applicability in different contexts and make recommendations for public engagement as part of the planned public consultation on the new CAFS strategy:

  • Provide an expanded discussion and categorisation on recent public engagement approaches on air quality in Scotland, UK and internationally on the basis of existing information. This should highlight the various factors that help determine the effectiveness of public engagement approaches, as well as what is required to tackle real or perceived barriers.

3. Making recommendations for a public engagement strategy for air quality:

  • On the basis of the evidence gathered, we will assess the applicability of public engagement approaches to the Scottish context and make key recommendations to inform future public engagement strategies, as well as highlighting key knowledge gaps and future research needs.

1.3.1 Geographic scope

Overall, this report aims to capture a broad range of evidence from Scotland to document Scottish public attitudes to air quality policies but draws upon a broader range of UK and international case studies to identify effective public engagement approaches and assess their applicability to the Scottish contexts.



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