Report highlights Government’s poor progress on cutting carbon

05 August 2009

An Environmental Audit Committee report published today 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 per cent. 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 per cent 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 per cent since the baseline year of 1999–2000. The proportion of renewable energy used by Government dropped from 28.3 per cent in 2006–2007 to 22 per cent in 2007–2008. And recycling rates dipped from 38.5 per cent in 2006–2007 to 35 per cent in 2007–2008.

The Committee is unconvinced by the Government’s claim that it will ‘exceed’ its target of a 12.5 per cent 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

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