Government failing to integrate sustainable development into its operations and policy
The UK Government has been accused of failing to uphold its commitment to assess the environmental impact of both its policies and day-to-day activities.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) says the Government’s attempts to appraise the environmental impacts of its own activities is “rudimentary.” The Committee says that several departments have failed to implement the so-called Greening Government Initiative, noting that the DETR has itself failed to commit itself to publish its assessments of the environmental impacts of proposed policies.
The EAC was responding to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions’ (DETR) first annual report from the Green Ministers Committee – a group of ministers from each of the main central government departments charged with implementing the Greening Government Initiative: the integration of sustainable development into government and the public sector. The two main elements of the initiative are the use of environmental appraisal of new government policies and ‘green housekeeping’ for government operations.
While the EAC has welcomed the publication of the Green Ministers’ report, it recommends that the next report be presented to the House of Commons as a Command Paper and be validated by the National Audit Office. It also says the Green Ministers should assess the environmental impacts of each Government department in order to identify areas that could experience either environmental gains or damage.
The EAC says that, at the moment, Green Ministers are not pursuing the greening government agenda with enough energy. The EAC recommends that the next Green Ministers Committee report presents data in a more easily comparable form and includes a full account of how the Green Ministers contributed to the process of allocating public expenditure, the Comprehensive Spending Review 2000.
When the Green Ministers’ Report was published in July 1999, the Ministers claimed that almost all Government departments had their own green housekeeping strategies and that some departments had started to ‘green’ their policies.
The Ministers’ Report boasted that Government departments were on track to meet their target of a 20% improvement in energy efficiency against 1990 levels by March 2000; that departments were getting help to implement Environmental Management Systems (EMSs); and that the Ministers had issued advice to departments on environmental appraisals of policies.
However, the EAC says that few departments have fully implemented the Green Ministers’ measures. For instance, only the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) has made an explicit commitment to publish how it proposes to assess the likely impacts of its policies.
The EAC adds that the DETR is one of the departments that has failed to make the same commitment, and that the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office are also “clearly failing both the letter and the spirit of the commitment on environmental policy appraisal.”
The Committee points out that of the seven environmental policy appraisals carried out by four Government departments, all but one are assessments of the impacts of preferred options, or already announced decisions. The EAC report says the Government is blurring the distinction between ‘option appraisal’ and ‘impact assessment’, “which is likely to be much more about defending decisions.”