MPs call for new minister for sustainable development

MPs from the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) will today recommend that the government removes DEFRA's responsibility for sustainable development in government.

The report will argue that the Cabinet Office should take over the task of monitoring and reducing the government’s environmental impact because DEFRA does not have the influence to undertake this role.

The report says: “The Government must recognise that DEFRA is not in a position to be able to make departments act more sustainably.

“Its non-central position limits its ability to influence other departments or to hold them to account. The Cabinet Office is better located to do this.”

The EAC began an inquiry after the government withdrew funding for the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

The Committee said it is concerned that funding has been withdrawn and the SDC has been hampered by a lack of political will to implement decisions on sustainable development.

The Committee will propose that a new role should be created for a minister in the Cabinet Office with responsibility for sustainable development.

The report also calls on the Treasury to support a sustainability policy more robustly. It says: “Treasury buy-in to the sustainable development agenda is essential.

“It is in a position to exert real influence over other departments, including the possible use of sanctions against poor sustainability performers.”

There has so far been a mixed response from environmental groups. The WWF expressed concern that DEFRA’s existing sustainable development expertise may be watered down but backed the suggestion that new powers are needed.

WWF-UK solicitor, Carol Hatton, said: “We were appalled at the speed and ease with which the Coalition Government has been able to unravel bodies such as the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution.

“We clearly need new mechanisms with real teeth that are less vulnerable to attack. A beefed up Cabinet office with a new Minister in no way replaces the SDC as it will not provide independent advice and scrutiny – only new institutional measures outside of Government can do this.”

Alison Brown

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