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Government starting to get to grips with sustainablility targets - but carbon emissions still not on track

12 December 2008

Sustainable Development Commission data shows improvement on waste, water and travel targets, but emissions not falling fast enough

New data published by the Sustainable Development Commission  shows the government is making progress towards meeting most of its own sustainability targets.

Sustainable Development in Government 2008 figures, covering the financial year 2007-8, reveal that, while departmental results are mixed, the government as a whole is on track to meet most major targets, except carbon emissions and combined heat and power (CHP).

Departments have made big steps towards reducing waste, water consumption and emissions from road travel. However, while carbon emissions from offices show an improvement from last year they are still not falling fast enough to meet the target of a 12.5% reduction by 2011-12. And while recycling and electricity sourced from renewables are both on track to meet targets, both are down on last year’s totals.

Key findings include:

  • Government as a whole is on track or better in all major target areas, except carbon emissions from offices and combined heat and power (CHP)
  • Carbon emissions from offices are down 6.3% since the baseline year. This is an improvement of 2.3% from last year, but still not on track to meet the 2010-11 target of a 12.5% reduction
  • 8.7% of electricity was produced by CHP, compared to last year’s 5.8%. However, this is still not on track to meet the target of 15% by 2010
  • Carbon emissions from road vehicles have improved dramatically with a reduction of 10.3% from the baseline, compared to an increase of 1.5% against the baseline last year
  • Total waste was down 28.8% - already exceeding targets. This is also a dramatic improvement since last year when only a 5.3% reduction in waste was reported
  • 35% of waste was recycled. However, this was a slight drop compared to last year (38.5%)
  • 22% of electricity was derived from renewable sources - but this is down from 28.3% last year
  • Water consumption was down 17.8% - a big improvement from last year’s 0.1% reduction against the baseline
  • All departments indicated that their Permanent Secretaries (or equivalent) have had the sustainability targets incorporated into their performance agreements

Rebecca Willis, Vice Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: "It's great to see departments finally starting to prioritise their sustainability duties and make progress in many areas. And we look forward to seeing the results of recent initiatives, like the new Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Procurement, translate into stronger results next year.

"However, there’s still a long way to go - and it's clear that these targets must be the start of an ever more ambitious sustainability programme. In the current climate of volatile energy costs and financial constraints, these targets make good economic sense. And now that the UK has committed itself to a world-leading 80% cut in emissions by 2050, and the Committee on Climate Change has recommended a reduction of 34% by 2020, the government needs to demonstrate in practice how such cuts can be met.

The Sustainable Development Commission will publish its recommendations to government for setting future priorities in the Spring.

- ENDS -

Notes to Editors

  1. For more information and interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 / 07825 106 803, or email rhian.thomas@sd-commission.org.uk
  2. The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government’s independent advisory body on sustainability issues, made up of 19 Commissioners chaired by Jonathon Porritt. It reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland
  3. The government launched new targets for sustainable operations on the government estate, alongside the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan, in June 2006. These targets replace those in the Framework for Sustainable Development on the Government Estate (originally published between 2002 and 2004). For more information, see: http://www.sustainable-development.gov.uk/government/estates/index.htm. Sustainable Development in Government 2008 is the seventh annual review of the government’s performance against these targets, and the fourth produced by the Sustainable Development Commission
  4. In response to the publication of the Sustainable Development Commission’s Sustainable Development in Government 2007 report in March 2008, the government created a new Centre of Expertise for Sustainable Procurement (CESP), tasked with ensuring that the government delivers on its sustainable operations and procurement targets. Its Delivery Plan was published in July 2008, with input from the Sustainable Development Commission, and will be updated with the 2007/08 data in December 2008. The results of changes made under these plans are expected to be visible in 2008-09 data.
  5. In recent months, the SDC has overseen a process for improving the quality of data through reviewing departmental baselines for the SOGE targets. The SDC produced guidance for departments detailing when “rebaselining” is appropriate, as well as chaired a panel (including CESP and Defra) to approve rebaselining cases. With over 40 cases approved, data quality has improved significantly this year.

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