Environmental Audit COmmittee

14 July 2008

Announcement of publication

Government departments making poor progress on cutting carbon

Government departments and agencies are lagging far behind their targets to cut carbon emissions, the Environmental Audit Committee concludes.

In a report out today, Making Government Operations more sustainable: A progress report, the Committee says the Government's overall performance in tackling carbon emissions remains extremely poor. The Committee's report draws on the annual review of Government performance by the Sustainable Development Commission, as well as a review carried out for the Committee by the National Audit Office.

The Government has set targets to reduce carbon emissions from Government offices by 12.5% 2010-11 compared to 1999-00 levels, and to go carbon neutral by 2012. By 2006-07, Government had reduced its emission figures by 4%. This lags behind the trajectory required to meet the 2010-11 target. The Committee notes that the Government has announced many promising reforms but says what is crucial now is that departments make good on these promises.

Concern is also expressed about the reliability of emission figures. The Committee criticises the Ministry of Defence for claiming a big cut in emissions after it sold the defence agency QinetiQ - when in reality, it was simply moving these emissions "off balance sheet" to the private sector. The Government has now stopped claiming this as a cut in emissions, but the Committee warns it not to make similar claims in the future.

There is further concern that the Government will rely too heavily on buying offsets to make the Government office estate carbon neutral, instead of reducing its own emissions. The Committee wants to see the Government put a cap on the use of offsets and wants the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to publish details of the amount the Government expects to spend on offsetting its emissions every year.

MPs question whether the use of "green tariff" electricity by the Government is having much impact. Instead they urge the Government to demonstrate leadership by doing much more to generate its own electricity from on-site or district renewables. According to the National Audit Office, of all the electricity consumed by the Government, only 0.0004% is generated by on-site renewables - such as wind, solar, or biomass power plants - on Government property.

The Committee also finds it unacceptable that 15% of executive agencies do not report performance against their sustainability targets, even though this is mandatory.

Since 2005 the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has taken on a watchdog role, reporting each year on the performance of Government bodies in meeting their sustainability targets. The Committee praises the work of the SDC, but suggests it could be more forthright in its presentation of poor performance.

In March, in response to the SDC's latest report, the Government announced major changes to the way departments and agencies will tackle their environmental objectives, with personal responsibility for environmental performance being given to the most senior civil servant in every department. The Committee welcomes these changes, but says they must now demonstrate swift and tangible improvements. The MPs also call for the Government to do more to work with staff at all levels, including engaging with civil service unions.

Chairman of the Committee, Tim Yeo MP, said: "The degree of confusion within Government as to how to make its offices carbon neutral by 2012, how much this will cost, and even how it will be defined and what it will measure, is wholly unsatisfactory.

"Greening Government operations is important in its own right because of the size and range of their environmental impacts. However even more important is the effect the Government can have on society more widely by demonstrating leadership in the way it approaches its own record.

"The Government is to be congratulated for announcing a big shake-up to the way departments respond to their environmental targets. But now they've got to demonstrate significant year on year improvements. Until the Government shows that it is living up to its commitments it will find it hard to maintain the moral authority to influence the rest of us."

Notes for Editors:

Each year, central Government offices produce approximately 2.3 million tonnes of C02 emissions, (around 0.4% of the UK total) and 309,000 tonnes of waste.

The National Audit Office (NAO) produced Energy consumption and carbon emissions in government departments for the Committee in November 2007. In March 2008, the Sustainable Development Commission published the Sustainable Development in Government Annual Report 2007. On the same day, the Government published an official response to the SDC. These are available from the websites of the NAO, SDC, and Cabinet Office.

The report published today by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is its Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Making Government operations more sustainable: A progress report, HC 529. Details of all the Committee's press releases together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee's website at: www.parliament.uk/eacom

Copies of the EAC report will be available in hard copy from 11am on 14 July 2008; and can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting House of Commons No 355. The text of the Report will also be available from approximately 3.30pm onwards on its publication date, on the Committee's Internet homepage: www.parliament.uk/eacom

For further information on the report, or to bid to interview the Chairman, journalists may phone the Committee's press officer, Laura Kibby, on 020 7219 0718.