Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report


ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT: THE FIRST PARLIAMENT

THE WORK OF THE COMMITTEE

Assessing policies

15. The Committee has looked at a number of policy areas in line with the first half of its remit to assess the Government's contribution to the environment and sustainable development. In this area the Committee's work falls into three categories: individual policies, tax and spending decisions, and the establishment of a clear framework for integrating environmental considerations into general policy-making (the 'Greening Government Initiative').

Individual areas

16. The focus has been on the account taken of the Government's own commitments to put the environment at the heart of policy-making across the government machine. A mixture of environmental and non-environmental policies have been studied, in both a domestic and a multilateral context:

17. The Government responses to Committee recommendations are looked at below and a selection are analysed in Annex D. The overall picture is a patchy one and we have concluded that the evidence of a genuinely new approach to policy-making is thin.[18] This is particularly disappointing in view of this Government's emphasis on policy appraisal and the environment on taking up office. We note the Government's recent statement that "work on environmental appraisal should be subsumed within an integrated appraisal system which will support sustainable development in its broadest sense and take into account the full range of impacts that policies can have on all sectors of the UK."[19] We remain concerned that the Government is trying to run before having learned to walk effectively. There also appears to be some tension between the development of integrated policy appraisal and the Government's recent commitment to us to publish all "free-standing" environmental appraisals of policy.[20] We hope that 'subsuming' does not mean in effect burying policy appraisal and the environment.

Tax and spending

18. A major strand of work has been on the greening of the budget process and the system for allocating public expenditure. The Committee concluded from the outset that the status and significance of these cross-cutting mechanisms made them particularly worthy of regular assessment.[21]

19. The EAC in fact started life with a look at the Chancellor's first Pre-Budget Report in November 1997 taking up his open invitation to participate in a national debate on tax issues—to the surprise of some.[22] Checking progress against Treasury's Statement of Intent on Environmental Taxation has become a regular feature of our calendar especially in view of the prominence given to the use of economic instruments by the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy.[23] The Statement commits the Government to a significant effort to green the tax system thus shifting the burden of taxation from "goods" (investment, employment, cleaner technologies and more energy efficiency) to "bads" (like the excessive consumption of fossil fuels as well as polluting emissions to air, atmosphere and water).[24]

20. Our reports on the budget process have looked at the merits of individual green taxes; the extent to which budget documentation explores the links between economic, social and environmental issues; and at the extent to which the Treasury reports on each budget's environmental impacts. Our principle hope for future budgets is to see a more consistent and strategic approach to shifting the burden of taxation onto those activities which do most to hold us back from sustainable patterns of development. We are currently inquiring into the Pre-Budget Report, 2000 with a focus on fuel duty and the environment.[25]

21. The allocation of public expenditure is the other side of the coin. We looked at the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and the then new system of Public Service Agreements (PSAs) for signs that the environment and sustainable development had been taken into account in a systematic way. We were also keen to see whether the need for improvements in these areas and the need for integration had been built into the PSA apparatus.[26] We were disappointed.[27] This impression was eventually confirmed by the Minister for the Environment, The Rt Hon Michael Meacher MP, who told us in February 2000 that "the first round of the spending review—the CSR—did not reflect sustainable development considerations as strongly as we would have wished. I think they are there, I think they are bolted on, but I do not think they are as integrated within the process as we would have liked".[28] We were grateful to the Rt Hon John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister, for sight of the Treasury's guidance on how to take account of sustainable development and the environment within the second such review—Spending Review 2000.[29] We will scrutinise, in due course, the extent to which that part of the guidance was followed by departments (and in what way its use was monitored by Treasury) during the last spending round.

Greening government

22. As the Deputy Prime Minister has told us, the pursuit of sustainable development requires a complete change in culture and behaviour within government.[30] We have examined the progress of the Government's efforts in achieving this change in a number of reports under the overall banner of 'greening government'. This work has looked at the arrangements for encouraging departments to 'put the environment at the heart of government'.[31] These arrangements include:

    —  the ENV Cabinet Committee;
    —  the Green Ministers (in committee and individually);
    —  the Sustainable Development Unit within DETR;
    —  the environmental appraisal of policies
    —  green housekeeping (or operational issues) such as the use of environmental management systems by departments and progress with greening procurement; and
    —  the Government's reporting of progress on all these issues, collectively through the Green Ministers Committee, and individually through departmental annual reports.

23. Recent specific developments include:

    —  the UK sustainable development strategy & set of indicators;
    —  a Sustainable Development Commission to monitor progress and report to the PM;
    —  relevant new powers and duties for local government;
    —  departmental initiatives such as MAFF's indicators for sustainable agriculture & DTI's own sustainable development strategy;
    —  a second report from the Green Ministers Committee; and
    —  a conclusion to Spending Review 2000.

We will be examining these developments within the context of the third Greening Government Initiative inquiry in 2001.

24. In our previous inquiries we have worked with the grain of the Government's efforts improving existing arrangements to help progress with the sustainable development agenda (a) to occur, and (b) to be demonstrated. We have aimed at assisting the improvement of the systems in place, and the information available, from quite a low base.

Greening the European Union

25. In addition to efforts within the UK to green government we also looked at the wider European context and the 'Cardiff Process' (a UK Presidential initiative) by which the significant Councils of Ministers are to agree strategies for integrating environmental considerations into their policy-making. This is in response to a key Treaty amendment agreed at Amsterdam in October 1997 which states in a free-standing clause "environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Community policies and activities ... in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development".[32] Other EU institutions have also expressed commitments to action in this direction.

Auditing performance against targets

26. Fulfilling the second half of our remit—auditing the Government's performance against the targets it sets itself—has been more difficult. Sustainable development targets, where set, are for achievement some years hence, often without clarity over milestones or other interim measures.[33] There have been few appropriate for audit (see below at paragraph 48).

27. We have reviewed actual or likely performance against such targets in the work set out above where it was relevant to do so. Specifically:

    —  the level and distribution of domestic, EU and international climate change targets in the Fourth Report of 1997-98 Climate Change: UK emission reduction targets and audit arrangements and the Second Report of 1998-99 Climate Change: Government response and follow-up;[34] and

    —  various government targets for the achievement of end-use energy efficiency in the Seventh Report of 1998-99 Energy Efficiency.[35]

More generally:

    —  we recommended a more regular framework and reporting structure for Green Ministers and these arrangements have helped that body both to develop and to report on a fuller range of sustainable development targets;[36]

    —  we recommended that a protocol be established setting out thresholds for evidence and other procedures to assist the various parties to agree on the outcome of the field trials of certain genetically modified crops and their impact on biodiversity;[37] and

    —  we have followed up on the implementation of the Government's undertaking to consider a sustainable development remit for each further public body established.[38]

28. We have therefore so far concentrated on 'auditing' the Government's implementation of policy against its overall strategic commitments, for example:

    —  "We must make the process of government green. Environmental considerations must be integrated into all our decisions, regardless of sector. They must be in at the start, not bolted on later."[39]

    —  "Growth must be both stable and environmentally sustainable, delivering sustainable growth is a task that falls across government. it will be a core feature of economic policy under this administration. The Treasury is committed to that goal."[40]

29. One environmental and sustainable development target, that is clearly due for report and audit, is the Government's energy efficiency target: to improve energy efficiency on the Government estate by 20% on 1990-91 levels by March 2000 picked up from the previous administration.[41] The Government's report of performance against this target was expected in the second annual Green Ministers Committee report but is delayed. The Government accepted our recommendation that the NAO be invited to audit the Government's data, methodology and reporting of performance against this target.[42]

30. Other ministerial targets, from under the environmental wing of sustainable development, falling due during this year (either at the end of the 1999/2000 financial year or the calendar year 2000) are set out below.

Greening government

    —  The establishment of departmental strategies for raising awareness on sustainable development and general environmental issues (by March).

    —  The establishment of Green Transport Plans (now 'Travel Plans') for all buildings where a department is the major occupier with over 50 staff.

Greening local government

    —  The production of a Local Agenda 21 (LA21) sustainable development strategy by each local authority in the UK (challenge from the Prime Minister).[43]

Climate change

    —  The return of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000 (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)).[44]

Energy generation

    —  The increase of the UK's installed capacity for combined heat and power (CHP) to 5,000 MWe (adopted commitment).

    —  The previous administration's 2000 target for electricity generation from renewables was 1500MW of installed capacity. This has now been superseded by new targets for 5% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2003; 10% by 2010 (subject to the cost being acceptable to the consumer).


Energy efficiency

    —  250 petajoules of energy savings (equivalent to £800m) per year through Energy Efficiency Best Practice Programme (adopted commitment).[45]

    —  The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 (HECA) does not set targets but it does require local authorities to identify measures for the significant improvement of the energy efficiency of residential accommodation in their area and to report on progress being made in implementing those measures over 15 years (a devolved matter—in England ministerial guidance defined 'significant' as a 30% improvement).

Forestry

    —  The previous administration had set a target to double forest cover in England and Wales over the next 50 years.[46] This has now been superseded by sustainable forest management strategies for each country of the UK established by devolved authorities where appropriate.

Water efficiency

    —  To reduce water leakage in England and Wales by 26% of its 1996/97 levels.[47]

Air quality

    —  To reduce UK sulphur emissions by 50% on 1980 levels (UNECE Second Sulphur Protocol).

    —  Air Quality Strategy objectives for nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide for the protection of vegetation and ecosystems.[48]

Ozone layer

    —  To phase out use of chlorofluorocarbons.(CFCs) in the UK (Montreal Protocol).[49]

Waste

    —  The previous administration's targets for 2000 were for (a) recycling or composting 25% of household waste; (b) composting to be carried out by 40% of domestic properties with a garden; and (c) easily accessible recycling facilities for 80% of households. These were adopted as interim measures in Making Waste Work. They have now been superseded by the Government's Waste Strategy 2000—the deadline for recycling or composting 25% of household waste is now 2005.[50]

    —  Packaging waste: recovery—45%; material specific recycling—13% of total packaging handled by obligated businesses (statutory requirement contained in the Producer Responsibility Obligation (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997).

31. In addition there is the potential to audit the Government's reporting of the messages coming from the headline indicators of sustainable development. A comprehensive report on these indicators is expected as part of the first annual report on progress against the UK's sustainable development strategy—A better quality of life. We have discussed the strategy in evidence sessions with officials, the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development and the Deputy Prime Minister and the Environment Minister.[51] Further action will be taken in the light of the first progress report. However, it is clear that, given the Government's commitment to 'adjusting policies' where trends in the movement of these indicators are unacceptable,[52] it will be important to assess the Government's definition of 'unacceptable' in the relevant cases.


17  See Annex C for a full list of Reports. The Committee's work on greening the European Union can be regarded as either a distinct policy area or the application of 'greening government' in a multilateral context (see Annex D) Back

18   See HC 233, 1999-2000, para 20; HC 341, 1999-2000, para 38; and HC 404, 1999-2000, pvi, sub-para (i) Back

19  Cm 4819, para 22 and see para 36 Back

20  Cm 4819, para 28 Back

21  See Annex C Back

22  First Report, 1997-98, HC 547, Q1 and see HC 517-i, Q2 Back

23  A better quality of life, a sustainable development strategy for the UK, Cm 4345, May 1999, DETR Back

24  Taxes on landfill (introduced by the previous Government) the use of energy by business and quarrying, together with concomitant reductions in National Insurance Contributions, are examples of this approach. We have looked in detail at progress with the introduction of such taxes. We have also referred to the inclusion of taxes on tobacco and alcohol as possible examples of non-environmental taxes on 'bads' (HC 404, para 12) Back

25  See Press release No. 29, 1999-2000 Back

26  Second Report, 1997-98, HC 517, Third Report, 1998-99, HC 92, and Third Report, 1999-2000, HC 233 Back

27  Third Report, 1998-99, The Comprehensive Spending Review and Public Service Agreements, HC 92, para 1(a), (f) and (q) Back

28  HC 175-i (1999-2000), Q149 Back

29  Ibid, Q144, pp54ff Back

30  HC 517-II (1997-98) Q2 Back

31  The Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, UN, New York, 1997 Back

32  Article 6 which came into force on 1 May 1999 Back

33  All significant climate change targets are set for 2010 being based on international agreement which looks for reductions over a period 2008-2012 (albeit with a milestone for 'demonstrable progress' by 2005) Back

34  HC 899, 1997-98, and HC 88, 1998-99 respectively Back

35  HC 159, 1998-99 Back

36  HC 517, 1998-99 Back

37  Fifth Report, 1998-99, GMOs and the environment: coordination of Government policy, HC 384 Back

38  See for example Sixth Report, 1999-2000, Budget 2000 and the environment, HC 404, para 30  Back

39  The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister, speech at the UN, New York, June 1997 Back

40  The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Pre-Budget Report 1997 Back

41  This Common Inheritance 1997, Cm 3556, March 1997, Department of the Environment Back

42  The Government's reply to the Committee's stated that it was happy for the NAO to validate the methodology and audit the figures and that it would be discussing with the NAO how this might be done. Cm 4819, para 77 Back

43  The Local Government Act 2000 includes a requirement for local authorities to produce 'community strategies' on how to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. It seems likely that there will be a significant degree of cross-fertilisation between the local authorities' work to meet the Prime Minister's challenge and fulfill the new statutory provisions Back

44  Formally this target applies individually to each of the three greenhouse gases covered by the 1992 UNFCCC (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) but they are usually treated together Back

45  This Common Inheritance, 1997, Cm 3556 Back

46  This Common Inheritance, 1997, Cm 3556 Back

47  Ofwat reports that this has been achieved Back

48  Cm 4548, p38. An annual mean for each to be achieved by the end of 2000 Back

49  The relevant regulations came into force on 30 September 2000 and provide for the phasing out of CFCs in the UK over the next 12-14 months Back

50  Waste Strategy 2000 Back

51  HC 479-i and -ii and HC 175-i Back

52  Op. cit., para 3.7 Back


 
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