The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has told Coventry to introduce a clear air zone (CAZ) after rejecting the council's plans to tackle pollution in the city.
A Class D CAZ, like Birmingham, drivers of all vehicles will be charged, including cars, if they do not meet the latest emissions standards.
A similar scheme in Birmingham will see high emission car and van drivers pay £8 per day on city routes.
The council now has until June 14 to respond to Defra.
A Defra spokesman said it had issued the direction because a congestion charge "was the benchmark option set out in Coventry's local plan for achieving compliance with legal air quality limits in the shortest possible time.”
Councillor Jim O'Boyle accused the government of not responding properly to the authority's plans.
"They are asking us to make every arterial road in the city part of a charging zone and that's completely unacceptable,” he told the BBC.
"I don't think they understand that in Coventry a clean air zone would end up being a series of fragmented zones that would potentially bring the whole city to a standstill - without offering any real long term solutions."
It is not yet known where the zone would be implemented.