Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


22. Two influential reports, the Brundtland Commission report in 1987 and the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in 2005, stressed the critical importance of cross-departmental action in addressing environmental issues as often the key direct and indirect drivers of ecosystem degradation and climate change are rarely in the environmental field. Rather, they are a function of wider political and economic issues controlled by departments without a primary focus on avoiding environmental damage. The MA concluded that "there is seldom the political will to develop effective ecosystem management strategies, and competition among the ministries can often result in policy choices that are detrimental to ecosystems".[26] Such inter-departmental competition is known as 'departmentalism'. Add to this potential for institutional inefficiency a rather large and complex institutional framework for climate change policy in the UK, the result might expected to be a lack of coherence in policy. This indeed seems to be the case, with a number of witnesses pointing to a range of policies in which there is a clear conflict between climate change and other objectives. Professor Tom Burke elaborated on this:

    Many commentators have already pointed to the apparent contradiction between the Government's climate policy and that on aviation. Whilst aviation emissions are by no means the most urgent climate issue they have, in the absence of a compelling explanation of how the policies are to be reconciled, acquired totemic significance as a marker for misalignment in the Government's climate policies. There are others.

    Domestically, perhaps the most important is any explanation of how the understandable drive to lower energy prices for competitiveness reasons is to be squared with relying primarily on a steeply rising price of carbon to drive investment in a low carbon energy system. Vehicle ownership in Britain [is] increasing faster than total population resulting in growing congestion that is bad for both the economy and the climate. To date, there has been little indication of how our transport policy is to be aligned with our climate policy. These clear misalignments act as a chill on investment in low carbon technologies by businesses and as a barrier to action by individuals and communities.

    … Our current approach to the deployment of carbon neutral coal technologies can best be described as lethargic. No-one reading our recent Energy White Paper could be blamed for concluding that we were not serious about the need for this technology.[27]

23. Professor Burke argued that there was a risk that the "current misalignment of climate and other policies will undermine confidence in the Government's will to tackle climate change and produce a weak and uncoordinated policy response that does not induce the necessary behaviour changes in investors and individuals".[28] Professor Helm argued that there is a "quite enormous gap between the aspirations over the last decade… and the outcome". He went on that this was "because delivery of many of these policies requires thinking about the infrastructures of the economy as a whole; so it is hopeless to think about embedded generation and energy efficiency without also thinking about the transmission and distribution systems for electricity. Similarly on transport, unless you have thought through the over-arching transport policy, local initiatives may have very limited effects. Those decisions need to be co-ordinated across those sectors".[29]

24. The need for better coordination of policy led to the creation of the Office of Climate Change in Autumn 2006 and the creation of a senior strategy board to manage climate change policies. The Government's memorandum elaborated on this:

    [T]he Government set up, in Autumn 2006, the Office of Climate Change (OCC) to support Ministers and Departments on UK strategy and policy on domestic and international climate change. The OCC is a shared resource across the six main Departments with climate change related responsibilities (Defra, DTI, DfT, DfID, FCO and CLG), and works closely with HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and No10.

    The OCC has three main functions. First, running time-limited policy-focussed projects, staffed by a mix of officials from different Departments and run in a manner similar to other organisations, such as the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit…. Second, to consolidate existing analysis and identify where further work might be needed. Third, to review and provide on-going support for the governance and programme management of climate change and energy policies across Whitehall.

    [Work on the 2003 Energy White Paper] led to the creation of a senior strategy board to manage the whole of the Government's climate change and energy policies, recognising that these two policy streams are inextricably linked.… The strategy board is supported by two new cross-Government programme boards covering domestic energy & climate change, and international energy & climate change. This clear governance structure at Ministerial, senior official and working levels, across all relevant Departments, collectively manages the Government's climate change and energy programmes.[30]

25. Nick Mabey urged caution as to the likely impact of these new governance arrangements. At the political level he thought that the OCC in particular would not ensure that policies are aligned; this would have to be a result of political will at Cabinet level. Nevertheless, he believes the new structures could enable more innovative and integrated solutions to be developed and that the OCC could help better to inform the political debate at Cabinet level:

    I think the Office of Climate Change has huge potential and that is one of the ways you can get around things like solving political arguments, [such as] the whole issue around heating and housing. I think there has been a lot of people fighting about how much restrictions to put on housing and how fast to move in that sector, based on very, very poor analysis of what the opportunity and the way forward and the potential that we can improve energy security immensely far faster than any nuclear programme anybody could build, protect pensioners, produce better living quality for people and provide lots and lots of jobs for UK workers, but no one was gripping that because it fell between everybody's stools in terms of Departments. That is the kind of problem where the OCC should get a break out of the impasse. That is the main thing it can do, to provide creative, integrated solutions that previously were languishing in gaps between Departments.[31]

26. The Committee elaborates further on its views about the OCC later in this report. Government policy in the past has failed to coherently address the need to reduce emissions. Added to this there appears also to have been a failure to ensure that cross-departmental structures are able to co-ordinate cross-government policies and their implementation. Therefore we welcome recent changes to governance arrangements to ensure that climate change policy is better coordinated, in particular the creation of the Office of Climate Change and a senior strategy board to manage climate change and energy policies. However, although these arrangements should improve knowledge of policy overlaps and therefore might facilitate more effective climate change policy, they will only lead to more consistent policy where there is the political will for more consistent policy. We will continue to monitor the Government in this respect, and will pay close attention as to whether the Government more effectively balances climate change and other objectives. The Comprehensive Spending Review will be a major test of the new arrangements, and we will scrutinise this in due course.

26   Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being Synthesis (Washington 2005) Back

27   Ev 42 Back

28   ibid Back

29   Q 64 Back

30   Ev 54 Back

31   Q 50 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 29 October 2007