Report quietly published last month shows efforts to cut government’s carbon emissions, domestic flights, waste and water usage fell short on all counts
January 12, 2016 — The government has failed to meet its own targets for cutting the environmental impact of the state’s operations, according to a Defra report quietly published last month.
The “greening government commitments”, which began when David Cameron declared he would lead the “greenest government ever” in 2010, were intended to deliver big cuts in carbon emissions, domestic flights, waste and water usage.
Efforts fell short on all counts, though the reductions that were achieved still saved taxpayers £185m in the last year.
Ministers have been heavily criticized for cuts to a swath of green policies, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, and a leaked letter in November revealed the government is not on track the meet the nation’s EU obligation for green energy in 2020.
“Ministers’ failure to hit almost all of these targets means a bigger bill for taxpayers and more damage to the environment,” said Lisa Nandy, Labor’s shadow energy and climate secretary . “If the government can’t even cut its own pollution footprint, how can anyone have confidence they will cut Britain’s?”
“The government has still managed to save £185m in energy, waste and water costs, showing that environmental protection makes economic sense too,” said Craig Bennett, head of Friends of the Earth . “The government must end its relentless attacks on green issues and make the reduction of the nation’s environmental footprint a top priority.”
Ministers had targeted a 25% cut in carbon emissions from government buildings and travel in 201 4-15 , compared to 2009-10, but achieved 22%. The failure was largely due to the Ministry of Defense, which accounts for half of all government emissions and cut its emissions by 19%.
Emission cuts came largely from improved energy efficiency and accounted for 90% of the money saved. But the government recently cut plans to improve energy efficiency in people’s homes by 80%. George Osborne’s Treasury, often blamed for the government’s anti-green moves, cut its own emissions by 56%, one of the largest savings.
More than 169,000 domestic flights were taken by government officials in 2014-15, unchanged from the year before. This represents an 18% cut compared to 2009-10, but falls short of the 20% target.
Just eight of 22 departments met the target, while domestic flights by environment department staff actually increased and those from the culture department more than doubled. Health department flights plummeted, however, by 62%.
Waste reductions also failed to improve last year, with the overall cut at 22% compared to the 25% target. The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s waste went up by 18%, while that at the Department for Education fell by 62%.
On water use, just six departments managed to meet the good practice benchmark set as a target and 12 of the 22 departments met a target on transparency on the steps they were taking to be greener. But the government slashed its paper use by 38% overall, far above the 10% target.
“While the headline achievements may fall slightly short of the targets set for 2014-15, the picture at department level shows that many departments are meeting and exceeding targets, while others are recording valiant reductions in face of significant operational challenges,” said ministers Oliver Letwin and Rory Stewart in a foreword to the report.
A spokesman for the environment department said: “Following this success we are developing a new set of greening government commitments to see how we can go further, making the UK even greener.”
But Bennett criticized the government for missing its targets. “This says everything about the incompetence of this government when it comes to protecting the environment,” he said. “For months ministers have been systematically undermining national efforts to tackle climate change, and now we learn that they’ve failed to meet a whole range of green targets for their own performance too.”