Monday, 28 February 2011

The UK government has announced plans to embed sustainability in policy

The UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman have just announced plans to ensure that Government policies have been ‘sustainability-proofed’. Policies must ‘help to deliver sustainable economic growth, improve our quality of life and protect our natural environment now and for future generations’.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne said: “We’re already delivering on the Prime Minister’s promise to slash the Government’s own carbon emissions by 10% in our first year, but we need to go much further beyond that.  Only by putting the low carbon agenda at the heart of everything that we do will we convince businesses and householders to do the same.”

The package includes:

  • Reducing government’s waste by 25% by the end of this Parliament. Best practice water efficiency methods will be put in place as well as a new commitment on greenhouse gas reduction which builds on the current 10% reduction in the first year of the new government.

  • Ensuring the Government buys more sustainable and efficient products.

  • Developing measurable indicators to monitor sustainability across government and report results publicly.

  • Independent monitoring of sustainability in government operations, procurement and policies by the Environmental Audit Committee, with more frequent reporting.

  • The Environment Secretary will sit on the key domestic policy Cabinet committees to enforce the Government’s commitment to sustainability across domestic policy making

  • A new Ministerial steering group will drive the commitments for greening government operations and procurement.

  • Defra will take the main responsibility for reviewing departmental business plans to ensure they adhere to Sustainable Development principles.


Call me cynical, but there’s only one actual target figure given in this announcement and that’s for a 25% reduction in the government’s waste (whatever that might include). The more detailed version of the proposals - Mainstreaming sustainable development – adds very little.

In terms of emissions, as far back as 2009 all major Government departments had their own carbon budgets (as I reported at the time). They also had to produce their own plans, which had two parts; one representing a departments influence on reducing emissions from the economy (my italics) and one reflecting the emissions from their own operations.

The existing government emissions reduction target certainly needs to be increased - reducing emissions by 10% is not much of a stretch when department budgets are being cut by 25-30% anyway. In terms of reducing emissions in the economy, the government seems to be backing away from the CRC Emissions Reduction scheme, which would have helped.

Nor is there any reference to the part that technology can play in all this. The previous government had a clearly defined green IT strategy, but I haven’t heard anything recently.

To be fair, there has been a number of other announcements and policy statements, including the Green Deal, a carbon price floor, greater support for export of clean technologies and the review of waste policies. But details are not always clear and neither is the expected impact.

What is clear, as reported in The Guardian recently, is that the government’s main low-carbon agency – The Carbon Trust - has had its funding cut by 40%, causing the cancellation of grants and projects and dozens of redundancies. The organisation has been forced to end its free on-site energy surveys for businesses.

© The Green IT Review

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