Memorandum from English Nature
1. The main arrangements within the UK for
greening government and promoting sustainable development require
stronger engagement from the highest level of Government.
2. The fundamental requirements for an effective
system for environmental accountability and audit in the UK are:
(i) All Government departments should produce
a sustainable development strategy to integrate environmental
considerations into policies and programmes, and prioritise greening
(ii) DETR guidance on Policy Appraisal and
the Environment should be reviewed to ensure it is consistent
with the Green Minister's Biodiversity checklist, to clarify
the requirements for the initial screening process and what constitutes
a "significant environmental impact", and to confirm
the Government's expectation that appraisals should be published.
(iii) The roles of the Green Ministers Committee
and the DETR Sustainable Development Unit need to be strengthened
to give them more influence across Government and better outreach
to department's associate bodies and the key economic sectors
(iv) Departments and their associate bodies
should report to a common standard on the outcome of policy decisions
and their impacts on trends measured against the sustainable development
indicators in Quality of life counts, and the requirements
of Policy Appraisal and the Environment and the Green Ministers'
(v) Overall, we believe there is a strong
case for mandatory environmental reporting, with independent scrutiny
and verification, for both the public and private sectors.
(vi) Public audit bodies should have regard
to environmental impacts, as well as conventional financial accounts.
The Environmental Audit Committee has been very successful at
scrutinising the policies and programmes of Government, produced
useful reports and plays an important part in the integration
of sustainable development into decision making. We believe the
Committee should retain its independence and its functions should
not be incorporated with those of the Public Accounts Committee,
nor should its support come from the National Audit Office.
(vii) Voluntary commitments are a useful
lever to promote good practice in both the public and private
sector. We believe the fundamental changes in behaviour to achieve
progress towards more sustainable development in the private sector
require better use of economic instruments and regulation, combined
with voluntary commitments where these can be made to work.
1.1 English Nature submitted written evidence
to the Committee's 1997-98 and 1998-99 inquiries on the Greening
Government Initiative and the First Annual Report of the Green
Ministers Committee 1998-99.
Our evidence is included as Annex 3 in the Committee's Fifth Report
on the Greening Government Initiative.
We welcome this opportunity to make a further submission to the
Environmental Audit Worldwide inquiry.
1.2 Evidence is invited under four headings:
overall, plugs, sockets and wiring it up. Our memorandum is structured
according to these heading, following a short explanation of the
context of English Nature's advice.
2. ENGLISH NATURE
2.1 English Nature is the statutory body
responsible for advising both central and local government on
nature conservation and for promoting the wildlife and natural
features of England. In fulfilling its duties English Nature:
advises Ministers on the development
and implementation of policies for nature conservation;
advises Ministers on other policies
affecting nature conservation;
identifies, notifies and safeguards
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);
establishes, maintains and manages
National Nature Reserves;
provides guidance and advice on the
principles and practice of nature conservation to a wide constituency;
commissions and supports research
and other projects relevant to nature conservation.
2.2 Through the Joint Nature Conservation
Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international
nature conservation issues.
2.3 Biodiversity is a key test of sustainable
development and, as the Government's statutory advisers on biodiversity,
English Nature gives advice to Government and others on the shape
and direction of sustainable development policies in England.
2.4 Green Ministers have agreed that, because
biodiversity is a key test of sustainable development, they will
promote biodiversity in their policies and programmes and in the
management of their department's own estates. To help Green Ministers
achieve this aim English Nature and the DETR Biodiversity Policy
Unit produced Making biodiversity happen across Government:
Green Ministers biodiversity checklist (March 2000). The checklist
provides a framework for measuring progress in future annual reports
of the Green Ministers Committee.
3.1 Article 6 of the Treaty of Rome requires
environmental protection to be integrated into all Community policies
and actions with a view to promoting sustainable development.
A better quality of lifea strategy for sustainable development
for the UK (May 1999) has a strong focus on indicators
and integration. In particular, it seeks better integration of
sustainable development in the policies and actions of every Government
department, and greater involvement of and action by those outside
3.2 The Government and others face huge
challenges to address the inherent tension between the three strands
of sustainable development, and to ensure appropriate decision
making on the balance between them in ways which promote integration.
The nearest we have seen to this in UK Government departments
is the draft DTI Sustainable Development Strategy (January 2000).
This draft strategy, as yet unpublished, fits within the framework
of A better quality of life, demonstrates a commitment to integrate
environmental considerations into policies and programmes, and
has priorities for internal greening operations. We suggest that
all Government departments should produce similar strategies.
3.3 We believe the main arrangements within
the UK for greening government and promoting sustainable development
compare well with those in most other EU member states, with the
possible exception of the Nordic countries which have a higher
degree of political engagement (eg Finland's Sustainable Development
Commission is chaired by the Prime Minister with five other Ministers
as members). Sustainable development needs strong political leadership
and engagement from the highest level of Government to raise awareness
and commit to change towards more sustainable approaches. We see
little evidence that the Cabinet Committee ENV has taken on the
strategic function and proactive role recommended in the Environmental
Audit Committee's 1997-98 Greening Government Initiative inquiry
report. The Green Ministers Committee has yet to establish real
"bite" across Government or within departments, nor
does it have sufficient outreach to their associate bodies and
the key economic sectors they sponsor.
3.4 In our evidence to the Committee's 1998-1999
inquiry on the Greening Government Initiative, we suggested that
the role of the DETR Sustainable Development Unit (SDU), and its
capacity to influence the full range of Government policies across
departments and associate bodies, could be strengthened if it
was located within the Cabinet Office rather than the DETR. We
work closely with the SDU, and despite its best efforts, we remain
concerned that it lacks the necessary power, influence and resources
to drive action towards sustainable development within Government
and to facilitate action by others.
3.5 We fully endorse the key actions, commitment
and indicators set out in A better quality of life and
Quality of life countsIndicators for a strategy for
sustainable development for the UK a baseline assessment (December
1999). We are using both documents to guide our policy development
and advocacy at national, regional and local level. The "green
housekeeping in government" indicator is weak in its present
form and better guidance is required on what is expected of government
departments and associate bodies within a framework of common
standards and performance measures.
3.6 The system for greening government policies
and programmes has the potential to be very effective at regional
level but in our experience has been disappointing. This is largely
due to the mismatch in timing between the production of Regional
Development Agencies' Strategies, Regional Planning Guidance and
their associated sustainability appraisals, and the production
of Regional Sustainable Development Frameworks. Reports on the
links between the environmental and economy have also lagged behind
RDA Strategies, with the exception of An environmental prospectus
for South West Englandlinking the economy and the environment
(March 1999). Opportunities for business growth which integrate
environmental benefits (eg habitat restoration and recreation)
have been slow to progress and much more needs to be done.
4.1 Annual reporting is essential to ensure
that the actions of Government departments are transparent and
accountable. The Green Ministers Committee has an important role
to identify common reporting standards against specific objectives
and targets with associated deadlines, to compare and challenge
performance, and chase up laggards. The publication of the Green
Ministers First Annual Report and subsequent scrutiny by the Environmental
Audit Committee provides a firm base from which to build a monitoring
and reporting system on greening government. Departments have
set and reported progress against targets and good practice examples
are widely used to encourage others to emulate across Government.
There is scope to extend the range of targets reported on (eg
use of Policy Appraisal and the Environment and the Biodiversity
checklist), and to integrate department's reports to the Green
Ministers Committee with the annual cycle of reporting by Government
against the headline and core set of indicators in Quality of
life counts. We believe departments and their associate bodies
should report on the outcomes of policy decisions and their impacts
on trends measured against the headline and core indicators.
4.2 Clearer reporting lines are needed from
the Green Ministers Committee, through Government departments
to associate bodies. Departments' reports should extend to the
performance of their outposts in Government Offices for the Regions.
They represent the face of Government in the English regions and
should play a lead role in demonstrating effective integration
to regional and local institutions.
4.3 Guidance on reporting standards is also
very patchy. English Nature receives conflicting messages about
what is required in terms of environmental management and subsequent
reporting. The DETR guidance on Developing an effective travel
plan: Advice for Government departments (January 2000)
is a user friendly document and we would welcome similar publications
on environmental management systems, environmental reporting and
4.4 The Environment Agency's Annual Environmental
Report 1998-99 could be used by the Green Ministers Committee
as an example of good practice. The Report was commended at the
Association of Certified Chartered Accountants 1999 Environmental
Reporting Awards. It has specific performance targets, a framework
for environmental accounting and has been independently verified.
5.1 The right frameworks appear to be in
place for Parliament to judge the Government's efforts to put
the environment at the heart of public sector activity but we
have concerns about their effectiveness. Lack of common reporting
standards for Government departments and their associate bodies
makes comparative performance measurement very difficult.
5.2 The Green Ministers Committee seems
to be implementing change at the rate of the slowest Government
department and needs to set tougher targets with penalties for
those who do not comply. This is imperative given the advances
made by the private sector. An increasing number of large companies
are well ahead of Government with their environmental programmes
and in the way they publish reports on environmental performance.
5.3 It is important to learn from the "bolt
on" experience with sustainability appraisals at regional
level. This is being addressed, at a late stage, through the Regional
Sustainable Development Frameworks against which implementation
of other regional strategies can be assessed.
6. WIRING IT
6.1 Integrated policy appraisal. DETR guidance
on Policy Appraisal and the Environment continues to be applied
inconsistently or not at all, and there are few published examples
of policy appraisals by departments. We believe the guidance should
be reviewed to clarify the scope and content of the initial screening
process and what constitutes a "significant environmental
impact", and to confirm the Government's expectation that
appraisals should be published. As a minimum criteria we would
expect policies which have an "adverse and irreversible effect
on biodiversity" (particularly where habitat cannot be replaced
or re-created elsewhere) to be screened out by environmental policy
appraisal. This is consistent with the Green Minister's Biodiversity
checklist which needs to be integrated with the policy appraisal
6.2 There will also be a need to the "duty
of care" for Sites of Special Scientific Interest which the
Government is proposing to give to all government departments,
public bodies/agencies, local authorities and statutory undertakers
under Schedule 9, section 28E(2) of the Countryside and Rights
of Way Bill. This gives "a section 28E authority" a
duty to "take reasonable steps, consistent with the proper
exercise of the authority's functions, to further the conservation
and enhancement of the flora etc . . . by reason of which the
site is of special scientific interest".
6.3 We recommend the Committee should review
the approach taken with the regional sustainability appraisals
when assessing departmental policies, programmes and decisions.
The appraisals use the sustainable development indicators in A
better quality of life as the criteria for screening the impacts
(positive, negative or neutral) of policies. This also acts as
a gap analysis to show where further information is required to
make an informed decision. Fourteen of the sustainable development
indicators apply to biodiversity (see Annex 1) and we would expect
new policies to have a neutral or beneficial effect on these indicators.
6.4 Sustainable Development Commission.
The Commission could make an important contribution to monitoring
and reporting on progress towards sustainable development. It
should fulfill a "watchdog role" to review and monitor
the impact of Government's policies on the sustainable development
indicators and should challenge departments when annual reports
show the indicators are going in the wrong direction. The Commission
will need ready access to Ministers, adequate resources and the
capacity to build consensus and promote deeper engagements between
the Government, associate bodies, the private sector and local
communities. Its membership should be broadly based, drawing on
the key economic sectors in which strategic change is needed,
as well as social and environmental expertise. Its reports should
be published and subject to a response from Government within
six months of publication. It would also be useful of the DETR
SDU and Commission secretariat to provide a "one-stop-shop"
information service for the Greening Government Initiative (eg
in a similar way to the Environmental Technology Best Practice
6.5 Public audit bodies and environmental
impacts. Public audit bodies should be charged with assessing
environmental impact, as well as conventional financial accounts,
to integrate environmental protection and sustainable development
into the heart of Government. The Environmental Audit Committee
has been very successful at scrutinising the policies and programmes
of Government, produced useful reports and plays an important
part in the integration of sustainable development in decision
making. We believe the Committee should retain its independence
and its functions should not be incorporated with those of the
National Audit Office.
6.6 Prudent use of natural resources is
an integral part of "economy, efficiency and effectiveness".
The Landfill Tax, Climate Change Levy, the new Aggregates Tax
and other fiscal measures which provide environmental incentives,
particularly in relation to transport policy, are strong "drivers"
of better environmental performance and competitiveness in the
private sector. Government departments with good environmental
management practices will also lower costs and reduce their exposure
to environmental risk.
6.7 We welcome the publication of the UK
Round Table's Report Not too difficult!economic instruments
to promote sustainable development within a modernised economy
(April 2000). We hope the Green Ministers Committee will
help to implement the key recommendations of the report and alleviate
concerns that environmental taxes impact on social equity and
6.8 Lessons and experience from the private
sector. The two main factors influencing the private sector's
environmental commitment are size of company and the sector within
which it operates. Large companies with resources and in-house
expertise have implemented and reported on their environmental
management systems for many years and are now moving towards social
reporting and sustainability management systems. Those at the
forefront tend to be the most heavily regulated industries who
have to monitor all of their impacts closely. The utility companies,
in particular water, include many examples of environmental reporting
good practice and are the most progressive in implementing corporate
Biodiversity Action Plans.
6.9 Voluntary commitments. Voluntary commitments
can create step changes in environmental performance and act as
a useful leverage tool to promote good practice in both the public
and private sector. But it is often time consuming to find common
ground and commitments are easily threatened by a change in management
or policy of one of the participating organisations. More sustainable
development will require fundamental changes in business behaviour
and we believe this will only be achieved through better use of
economic instruments and regulation, combined with voluntary commitments
where these can be made to work. This applies especially to the
many SMEs for whom environmental commitments are not even on the
6.10 Mandatory environmental reporting.
DETR guidance (eg on greenhouse gas emissions) and global guidelines
such as the Global Reporting Initiative are encouraging the private
sector to adopt common reporting standards. Given the emphasis
which the Government is placing on private/public sector partnerships
to achieve environmental objectives, the private sector can reasonably
expect public bodies to have a similar commitment to report on
their environmental performance against comparable standards.
6.11 It is also important to highlight the
move towards independent verification of corporate environmental
reports, auditing of processes and data analysis and development
of environmental accounts. The Greening Government Initiative
should be looking at all three areas if the policies and programmes
of Government departments and their associate bodies are to become
more transparent and accountable.
6.12 The drive towards a more coherent and
transparent environmental reporting system in the private sector
could be reinforced by possible changes in regulation:
(a) The Turnbull Committee report on Internal
Control (guidance under the Combined Code on Corporate Governance)
recommended that companies should be required to "identify,
evaluate and manage their significant risks . . . and review regularly
reports on effectiveness of the systems of internal control .
. . for the purpose of making their statements on internal control
in the annual report". This would place management of environmental
risks, as well as financial ones, firmly on the corporate agenda.
(b) The independent Company Law Review, due
to report in 2001, is likely to recommend new legislation to require
company directors to disclose environmental, social and ethical
performance data in annual reports.
6.13 Overall, we believe there is a strong
case for mandatory environmental reporting for both the public
and private sectors. The core requirement should be all public
bodies and private sector organisations to report against relevant
headline and core indicators in Quality of life counts.
This was one of the conclusions from DETR's seminar on a monitoring
and reporting system for sustainable development (Birmingham,
January 2000), and would be consistent with what the Government
and other stakeholders increasingly expect from business. Any
such requirement would not preclude reports against more detailed
indicators, specifically tailored to the character and needs of
their business or area, but wherever possible these should be
fully integrated with and capable of analysis and reporting within
the framework provided by Quality of life counts.
6.14 The Local Government Bill provides
a certain opportunity to give local authorities a duty to report
on their performance against sustainable development indicators
and how they implement their Community (ie Sustainable Development)
6.15 There is increasing competition between
private sector companies for awards which accredit good environmental
reports and performance (eg the Business in the Environment Index
of Corporate Environmental Engagement and Association of Certified
Chartered Accountants Environment Reporting Awards). Introducing
a "Green Ministers Committee Award" or incorporating
environmental performance into existing public service standards
(eg Service First and Best Value) could encourage better performance
in the public sector.
246 Environmental Audit Committee. Inquiry into the
First Annual Report of the Green Minister's Committee. Memorandum
of Evidence by English Nature, September 1999. Back
EAC Fifth Report, The Greening Government Initiative: First Annual
Report from the Green Ministers Committee, 14 March 2000, HC 341. Back
Cabinet Committee ENV, Green Ministers Committee, Sustainable
Development Unit, policy appraisal, A better quality of life,
Quality of life counts, the UK Round Table and Government
Panel (to be replaced in June 2000 by the Sustainable Development
Commission), and the EAC. Back