Environmental Audit Committee Press Notice

REPORT PUBLICATION: Greening Government

Taxpayers face bill if Government fails to reduce emissions

Report highlights drop in renewable energy used by Government and poor progress on cutting carbon

Tim Yeo MP available for interview / contact Nicholas: 07917488141

A report published by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee today (5 August 2009) warns that the Government is not on track to meet targets for cutting its own emissions and could have to pay money to large private sector firms - who may have done more to reduce their emissions - in a new carbon trading scheme due to begin in April 2010. The Committee's latest report on Greening Government also shows that the proportion of renewable energy used by Government departments has dropped in the last year.

The report welcomes improvements in some areas, such as on government road vehicles, where emissions have been cut by 10.3%. But MPs are concerned that the Government is not doing enough to reduce energy use in its buildings - which account for the bulk of emissions - and will therefore fail to meet its target of a 12.5% reduction in carbon dioxide by 2010/11. This could mean taxpayers have to pay for large amounts of carbon allowances under the Carbon Reduction Commitment - a carbon trading scheme which covers businesses, local authorities and public sector organisations above a certain size.

Tim Yeo MP, Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said:

"Unless the Government gets its house in order taxpayers could end up paying a heavy price to buy carbon credits from the private sector.

"In too many areas, like emissions of carbon dioxide from offices, it has made little or no progress and in others it is backsliding.

"Cutting Government energy bills with better insulation, solar panels and new heat and power boilers could save us lots of money in the long run€”but Ministers have so far lacked the vision to invest for the future.

Carbon dioxide emissions from offices - by far the largest source of emissions on the Government estate -have only been reduced by 6.3% since the baseline year of 1999-2000. The proportion of renewable energy used by Government dropped from 28.3% in 2006-2007 to 22% in 2007-2008. And recycling rates dipped from 38.5% in 2006-2007 to 35% in 2007-2008. The Committee is unconvinced by the Government's claim that it will 'exceed' its target of a 12.5% carbon emissions reduction by 2010-11.

The Committee found that to get on track the Government needed to:

  • complete its review of its sustainability targets and in particular address the targets which were being too easily met;
  • widen the scope of its targets to ensure that much more of the public sector was given meaningful targets for improving its environmental performance and the sustainability of its operations;
  • ensure that its massive buying power was being used to drive demand for green technologies and energy-efficient products;
  • improve the process for managing targets across government and make sure that permanent secretaries and ministers were held to account.

Tim Yeo went on to say:

"The Government's enormous buying power should be used to drive the transition to a low-carbon economy and boost the number of people in green jobs.

"Ministers and top civil servants are accountable for this agenda and their performance needs to improve dramatically.

"Leadership on these issues is crucial - the Government can't have one prescription for the country and another for its own operations."

The Committee's report also:

  • raises questions about the quality of the data used to measure the Government's environmental performance
  • criticises the Government for not carrying out a thorough cost / benefit analysis on the potential for green energy to cut bills on the Government estate in future.

Contact details

Press enquiries:

Nicholas Davies 07917488141

Other enquiries:

Gordon Clarke 020 7219 0248

NOTES FOR EDITORS

This is the eighth in a series of reports published by the Environmental Audit Committee on sustainable operations in government since the Committee's inception in 1997. It draws on work done by the Sustainable Development Commission which now compiles the data on behalf of the Government. The data published by the SDC as part of the seventh annual Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) assessment are available at http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/sdig2008/.

The Carbon Reduction Committee is an emission trading scheme that will cover around 5000 public and private organisations, including Government departments, retailers, banks and local authorities. Participants in the scheme will have to buy carbon allowances at £12 for every tonne of carbon dioxide the produce. It is due to start in April 2010 and is designed to tackle CO2 emission that are not already covered by Climate Change Agreements and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Government's own targets on sustainability are set out in a framework known as the Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE) . It is formed of three elements, each containing targets against which central government departments must report their performance. The first is a set of SOGE targets, including targets for the reduction of carbon emissions from offices and road vehicles, the reduction of waste and water consumption, recycling rates and biodiversity. The second is a set of "Mandated Mechanisms" intended to help departments improve their performance. These mechanisms include the application of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) standards to new builds or major refurbishments and the use of formal Environmental Management Systems (EMS). The third is the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan (SPAP).

Only central Government departments and their executive agencies are covered by the targets, leaving the environmental impacts of schools, hospitals and outsourced operations out. The Committee's report urges the Government to set out a plan for extending the system of targets and monitoring to the wider public sector, outsourced operations and its own suppliers. The Committee urges Ministers to show strong leadership and take an active role in driving through changes to the environmental performance of their Departments.

The Environmental Audit Committee

Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House.

Membership:

Chairman: Mr Tim Yeo, MP

Mr Gregory Barker MP Mr Nick Hurd MP Mrs Linda Riordan MP

Mr Martin Caton MP Jane Kennedy MP* Mr Graham Stuart MP

Colin Challen MP Mr Mark Lazarowicz MP Jo Swinson MP

Mr David Chaytor MP Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger MP Dr Desmond Turner MP

Martin Horwood MP Shahid Malik MP Joan Walley MP

* The Minister for the Environment has membership of the Committee in like manner to the Financial Secretary's membership of the Committee of Public Accounts.