MPs to scrutinise the UK Government’s internal sustainability progress

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) this week launched an enquiry into the UK Government’s existing “Greening Government Commitments (GGCs)”, which set out the sweeping range of internal sustainability targets currently in place for all departments and agencies.

Published in 2016 and running through to 2020, the GGCs cover the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste footprints and water consumption of all departments and agencies.

Against a 2009-10 baseline, they commit the Government to reducing GHG emissions from its buildings and domestic business transport by 32%; achieving a landfill rate of less than 10% of all waste; halving paper consumption and cutting the number of domestic business flights taken by 30% by the end of the 2019-20 financial year. 

The GGCs additionally commit departments to bettering their procurement frameworks in order to minimise environmental impact and human risks in their supply chains. The Government is notably the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the UK, with spending equivalent to 14% of GDP during 2018.

With the deadline for the GGCs now less than a year away and the Government currently developing new targets for 2021-2025, the EAC’s inquiry will examine the Government’s performance against the commitments to date. It will also determine how well the targets are aligned with key green policies such as the Clean Growth Strategy, Climate Change Act and the Road to Zero framework.

“While the last [GGC] report showed progress on greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption is up, and some targets may only have been met through a reduction in the size of the Government’s estate – a one-off solution that can’t be repeated,” EAC chair Mary Creagh MP said.

“Future targets will be more difficult to meet and will need stringent action and scrutiny if they are to be achieved. The Government must lead by example if the UK is to be considered to show leadership on tackling climate change.”

The EAC expects to publish the results of the inquiry this autumn. It is encouraging Ministers, MPS, staff, departments, agencies and external stakeholders to submit written evidence to the inquiry online before 5pm on May 22.

Net-zero considerations

In light of the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recently published advice on how the Government can legislate to create a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, the EAC’s inquiry will additionally explore how future GGCs can be aligned with the pathway to a carbon-free economy.

This alignment, the EAC claims, is likely to involve greater monitoring and more efficient enforcement of progress – something which will become instrumental if net-zero becomes enshrined in secondary legislation.

Speaking at an evidence session held by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee this morning (8 May), the CCC’s chief executive Chris Stark urged the Government to take this legal decision before the summer recess. This move, he said, would “send a very clear signal” to the global green economy ahead of discussions in June as to whether the 2020 COP summit should be held in London, and in advance of the UN’s September summit.

A spokesperson for BEIS this week told The Telegraph that the UK is “on [a] path to becoming the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions”.

Sarah George

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