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Urgent and radical action needed if Government is to meet key sustainability targets

18 March 2008

The Sustainable Development Commission is today (Tuesday 18 March) calling on the government to take urgent and radical action to meet its own sustainable development targets.

The call comes as the Commission publishes the sixth annual assessment of government operations, which finds that, despite encouraging initiatives, government is still not on course to meet targets and urgently needs to raise its game.

The Sustainable Development in Government 2007 report finds that recycling targets are well on their way to being met, and targets for electricity from renewable sources have been exceeded. However, while overall carbon emissions from offices have fallen by 4% since 1999, nearly two thirds of departments are still not on track to meet the target of reducing carbon emissions from offices by 12.5% by 2010.

Performance against other targets shows little progress, with procurement standards introduced as 'Quick Wins' widely going unobserved, despite being mandatory. There was also little progress towards reducing water consumption or sourcing electricity from combined heat and power. In other cases, performance is actually worse than last year, with carbon emissions from road vehicles up across government.

The Commission again found that the poor quality of data provided by departments in many cases made it difficult to arrive at a true picture. The government has since committed to taking serious steps to create an evidence base which is truly fit for purpose, a move which the Sustainable Development Commission warmly welcomes.

The Commission is also encouraged by the government's response to the report, which promises a comprehensive Delivery Plan designed to ensure sustainability commitments will be met. However, it warns that only radical and sustained action can have an effect on turning around poor performance to date.

Rebecca Willis, Vice Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, said:
"The UK government is making history by introducing the world's first Climate Change Bill, giving Britain the opportunity to lead the way on one of the most pressing issues facing the world. But government as a whole needs to take radical action to put its own house in order if it is to be in a position to lead by example.

"Failure is not an option. These targets must be the first step in a journey towards much greater sustainability; yet progress to date has been far too slow. We are pleased to see that the government appears to be taking the concerns we raise in this report seriously. We look forward to seeing the detail of the Delivery Plan, and to measuring its effects on the ground."

Key findings for 2006-07

• Carbon emissions from offices fell by 4% compared to the 1999/00 baseline year, but nearly two-thirds of departments are not on track to meet their own 12.5% reduction target by 2010/11

• Carbon emissions from vehicles increased by 1.5% against the 2005/06 baseline year. This shows no progress towards achieving the target of a 15% reduction by 2010/11 and is an area of serious concern

• 28.3% of electricity was obtained from renewable sources - far higher than the target of 10% by 2008

• Energy efficiency per square metre improved by 21.7% against the 1999/00 baseline - higher than the target of 15% by 2010. However, without the improvements made by MOD, energy efficiency across the rest of the government estate has worsened by 3.3%

• 38.5% of waste arisings from the government estate were recycled in 2006/07 - almost meeting the 2010 target of 40%

• Some limited progress was made towards the target for reducing water consumption (-0.1%), but not enough to be on track to meet the target of 25% by 2020

The Sustainable Development Commission's recommendations include:

• Permanent Secretaries and Senior Civil Servants should have sustainability targets explicitly built into their personal performance objectives

• A clear definition of carbon neutrality must be developed, including advice on how and when offsetting can be used to help achieve it - but strictly as an interim measure

• Departments must agree on a government-wide sustainable travel policy to encourage travel avoidance through smarter working and more sustainable travel where there is no practical alternative

• An air travel target must be developed to encourage travel by alternative, more sustainable, modes whenever travel is unavoidable

• More ambitious targets for future waste minimisation and recycling should be developed to ensure departments continue to challenge themselves and create opportunities for improvement

• Departments must produce detailed plans of how they aim meet targets, and a central register of baseline information must be kept to ensure that changes to departmental estates are accurately accounted for

The government is expected to announce its full response to the report today (Tuesday 18 March).

- 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 and 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:

Sustainable Development in Government 2007 is the sixth annual review of the government's performance against these targets, and the third produced by the Sustainable Development Commission

4. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) will also launch an inquiry into Government efforts to improve its environmental performance on the 18 March 2008. The inquiry will draw on two key publications: the Sustainable Development Commission's Sustainable Development in Government 2007 report and the National Audit Office's 2007 review Energy consumption and carbon emissions in government departments

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