Defra is not best placed to ensure that other Government departments embed sustainability in their operations and policy making, MPs have warned in a report out today. The Environmental Audit Committee is calling for the Cabinet Office to take responsibility for driving improvements in sustainability across Government – with greater support from the Treasury and Prime Minister.
The inquiry was launched in response to the Government withdrawing funding next year from the Sustainable Development Commission – which currently performs a watchdog and advisory role for Government on green issues. The MPs raise concerns that the loss of its experience and resources presents a risk to the Government’s green agenda and the sustainability of its policies.
Sustainable development, embedded in the policy-making of all departments, will help tackle long-term environmental, social and economic issues. In addition, saving energy and water, and reducing waste and unnecessary buying, can save the Government millions and help protect the environment. But the MPs warn that the Government is not set up to make the most of these potential benefits.
The report published today by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee recommends creating a new minister for sustainable development, to ‘sustainability proof’ decision-making across Government. That minister, based in the Cabinet Office, should hold departments to account when they fail to deliver on soon to be updated green targets, and with the assistance of the Treasury consider financial sanctions for poor sustainability performance.
Joan Walley MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:
“The sustainability agenda needs to be driven from the centre of Government. Defra has the expertise, but it does not have the influence to get the rest of Government to act more sustainably.”
“The Prime Minister’s influence is clear in setting targets for departments to deliver his 10% reductions in carbon emissions. But being the ‘greenest government ever’ isn’t just about reducing carbon emissions from Whitehall.”
“The Government now needs to broaden this ambition and get departments acting more sustainably across the board. And that means getting the Cabinet Office to take the lead, supported much more by the Treasury, and ensuring that government specifies what resources are needed to make this happen.”