Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


The terms of this inquiry

5. As a select committee looking across the work of all government departments, we have over the years stressed the need for effective co-operation and communication between departments of government. The challenge posed by climate change, which the Government has referred to as the greatest threat facing the world today, requires an unprecedented level of effective cross-departmental activity.

6. In this inquiry we have sought to investigate a number of issues relating to effective governance including strategies, mechanisms for cross-Governmental action, policy making and policy coherence, targets, skills and resources. We have also sought to identify whether there are changes required to the institutions of Whitehall, to enable them better to address climate change.

7. We received written memoranda from a range of sources including trade associations, academics, and Government Departments. We took oral evidence from Professor Dieter Helm, Professor Tom Burke, Elliot Morley MP, the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE), E3G, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and Government officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Office of Climate Change (OCC). We are grateful to all those who contributed to this inquiry.

Has there been domestic success on climate change?

8. In addition to its international commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce a range of greenhouse gases by 12.5% by 2008-12, the Government has introduced two additional domestic goals specifically to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2). The first domestic goal is to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 baseline levels by 2010 and the second to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. Although the Government is, commendably, on track both to meet and to exceed its international Kyoto commitments, recent estimates indicate that the domestic 2010 target is likely to be missed by some 4%.[1] Failure to meet the 2010 target has been anticipated for some time; the full and successful implementation of policies and programmes detailed in the Government's 2000 UK Climate Change Programme to meet the domestic target was only ever likely to reduce CO2 emissions by 19%. At that time the Government expressed the hope that the programme would stimulate wider action from all parts of society, and that therefore the domestic target would be reached.[2] Our predecessor Committee warned the Government that it was likely to miss its 20% carbon reduction target as early as March 2003, and an even earlier Report in 2002 pointed out that increasing coal-fired generation was leading to an increase in emissions rather than a fall as predicted by the then DTI.[3] Further analysis of the Government's record on climate change can be found in our Report Beyond Stern: From the Climate Change Programme Review to the Draft Climate Change Bill.

9. Some witnesses expressed concern to us that the Government had failed effectively to rise to the challenge posed by the need to reduce CO2. Professor Dieter Helm argued that there is a "quite enormous gap between the aspirations over the last decade… and the outcome".[4] He argued that those emissions reductions that have taken place have largely been a by-product of changes to the economy, rather than as a result of engagement by the Government:

    The emission reductions that have taken place have largely been the result of other policies and changes in the structure of the economy—such as the closure of… most of the coal industry in the 1990s and the de-industrialisation which has taken place since the very sharp recession of the early 1980s. Without energy-intensive industries, without coal mining and with the dash-for-gas in electricity generation, emissions inevitably fell of their own accord. Indeed, some of these emissions are now imported back from overseas energy-intensive producers, and in the meantime here in Britain aviation and road transport have—in part, explicitly driven by policy—increased.[5]

10. Nick Mabey, Chief Executive of E3G, told us that the Government has failed to identify synergies in policymaking, to join-up policymaking, and has often "politically failed to understand the implication of our decisions". Further to this, Dr Duncan Russel argued that policies and programmes relating to climate change have suffered due to a "lack of clarity as to how the different mechanisms, processes and tools are meant to feed into each other and pull together". He went on that, although the UK is considered an international leader in the pursuit of sustainable policy making, the actual integration of climate change and other issues has been on the whole "inconsistent and weak".[6]

11. Elliot Morley MP, Special Representative to the Gleneagles Dialogue on Climate Change, President of GLOBE International, and ex-DEFRA Minister for Climate Change, described to us the challenges that the Government has faced in trying to reach its ambitious domestic target. Referring specifically to the increasing use of coal in electricity generation, he pointed out that the Government has to work with the vagaries of the economy and that sometimes this can lead to an increase in emissions despite the efforts of the Government. He went on to say that "the power that the Government has over the economy in terms of emissions is comparatively limited".[7] He also argued that it takes time for certain policies to mature before they can lead to a reduction of emissions. In terms of the Government's domestic record on CO2 he pointed to the fact that CO2 emissions had been reduced since 1990, over a period of time that has seen economic growth, "which is not a bad achievement actually".[8] He did accept that "there is a great deal more that we need to do, particularly in terms of our domestic agenda".[9] He also accepted the point made by other witnesses that the delivery of climate change policies had initially been left to DEFRA alone (and its predecessor, the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions), and that this had had an impact on the success of the programme. This approach, he argued, had changed in later years when it "became obvious that we were becoming adrift, particularly in terms of meeting our targets on the 20 per cent reduction… I think there has been some improvement on that score".[10]

12. One of our earlier reports highlighted the key importance of meeting domestic targets in maintaining the UK's diplomatic influence in international negotiations. We concluded that "the UK must succeed domestically on the same issues that we wish to succeed internationally, to provide the political leadership required to encourage more sustainable action by other countries… Although the UK will meet its international commitments under Kyoto, we argue that this only represents a step in the right direction and does not necessarily reflect the scale of effort required to meet the challenge of climate change. We are therefore concerned that the UK might fail to reach its more demanding domestic target, and that this failure also will result in the loss of political leadership demonstrated by the UK through the adoption of the target".[11]

13. Over the past decade the Government has failed fully to rise to the domestic challenge of climate change, particularly if its record is considered in the light of its self-imposed 2010 CO2 reduction target of 20%. Although some of this failure is in part likely to be due to wider economic trends over which the Government has had only partial control, it is clear that the Government has not displayed the same level of ambition in willing the means as it did when first it willed the end of the 2010 target. The likely failure of the Government to reach its domestic target on CO2 is of concern not only with regard to the actual release of greenhouse gases, but also to the impact that this will have on the UK's international leadership role in reaching a post-Kyoto agreement.

1   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2006-07, Climate Change: the "citizen's agenda", HC 88-1  Back

2   Beverley Darkin, "Pledges, politics and performance - An assessment of UK climate politics", Chatham House, 2006 Back

3   Environmental Audit Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, Beyond Stern: From the Climate Change Programme Review to the Draft Climate Change Bill, HC 460 Back

4   Q 64 Back

5   Ev 22 Back

6   Ev 2 Back

7   Q 87 Back

8   Q 87 Back

9   ibid Back

10   Q 88 Back

11   Environmental Audit Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2006-07, Trade, development and Environment: The Role of the FCO, HC 289 Back

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