Select Committee on Environmental Audit Ninth Report


Has there been domestic success on climate change?
1.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. (Paragraph 14)
2.It is clear that the Government has responded institutionally to the challenge of climate change through the creation of new bodies to tackle specific climate issues. Although this process signifies the Government's willingness to tackle the issue, the organic process by which leadership and responsibility have evolved appears to have created a confusing framework that cannot be said to promote effective action on climate change. Although we accept that extensive rationalisation of climate change bodies might prove counter-productive there is clearly the need for a strategic review of Government bodies with a major stake in the climate change policy creation and delivery framework, to ensure that there is clear leadership and responsibility for the delivery of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. This review must seek also to assess the opportunities for the minimisation of inter-institutional conflict, and to aid in the development of effective synergies, through the rationalisation of bodies along, for example, sectoral lines. Ideally this review should have been completed prior to the creation of the Committee on Climate Change, to ensure that it has suitable well-defined roles and responsibilities. Given that the time available precludes this, we recommend that the Committee itself conducts the review upon its creation. (Paragraph 22)
3.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. (Paragraph 27)
Are new governance arrangements required?
4.Due to the power and central co-ordinating function of the Cabinet Office, it is clear to us that it should have a far greater role to play in ensuring that all Departments pull together to ensure climate policy is coherent. We therefore recommend that a new Climate Change and Energy Secretariat be established within the Cabinet Office to oversee management of climate change policy, supported in some analytical form by the Office of Climate Change which should also move to the Cabinet Office. As well as helping to generate effective policy, this new body should seek also to focus on the implementation and delivery of policy within the Departments. (Paragraph 37)
5.In addition, we recommend that the Secretariat is headed by a senior civil servant of sufficient authority to command the attention of those whom he needs to blend into a co-ordinated group. Although we believe that these changes will aid further the effective creation and delivery of climate change policies it still remains the case that unless the Prime Minister takes a strong lead in Cabinet by establishing climate change as one of his priorities, then individual departments will not be fully accountable for climate change nor give it the priority it needs. (Paragraph 38)
6.We are concerned that recent changes to the Cabinet Committee structure point to an apparent downgrading of climate change and other environmental issues in the Cabinet Committee process. One way in which focus could be maintained would be to create a new climate change Ministerial post with an automatic right to attend full Cabinet meetings. This Minister would not be a DEFRA representative but rather would have a cross-Government management function with overall responsibility for coordinating the Climate Change Programme and a Climate Change and Energy Secretariat, and with the duty to provide clear political leadership on climate change. Nonetheless it will remain that Cabinet Committee arrangements, although important, matter less than political leadership. Ultimately the proof of the new Prime Minister's and Cabinet's commitment to sustainable development and climate change will be in the decisions that are taken and the policies that are delivered. (Paragraph 42)
7.Public Service Agreements as a management tool can lead to more effective cross-Departmental working where they act to reinforce an existing, or help to create, strong consensus within Government on an issue. Our evidence suggests that PSAs relating to sustainable development and climate change have been less than effective due to the absence of such a consensus. Therefore the proposed changes to the Public Service Agreement framework under the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007, such as providing more information on the delivery and accountability for PSAs, although positive, are likely only to improve the effectiveness of delivery of cross-Government sustainable development and climate change objectives where there is a clear political will that this should be the case. (Paragraph 49)
8.Due to the large number of organisations involved in climate change policy, in order for them to be effective it is paramount that their roles and duties are effectively defined. Failure to ensure that the Committee on Climate Change has clarity of purpose, and that it will function within a coherent institutional framework, will undermine its ability to function effectively. Therefore upon its creation the Committee should conduct a strategic review of Government bodies with a major stake in climate change policy. (Paragraph 53)
9.We congratulate DEFRA, DTI and other Departments involved in those climate change projects in which successful cross-Whitehall co-ordination has been achieved, such as the establishment of the Office of Climate Change. Nevertheless, although we agree that it is important to ensure that there are strong overarching cross-Government coordinating structures, we argue that bringing together climate change and energy into a single Department would have helped to minimise the risk of inter-Departmental conflict in these intricately linked policy areas and therefore it could have enabled more coherent policy in both these areas. We believe that the movement of the energy brief into DBERR rather than DEFRA constitutes a missed opportunity to mould governance structures into a shape more predisposed to coherent management of this complex policy area. (Paragraph 62)
A long-term framework
10.The publication of the draft Climate Change Bill would seem to signify the Government's desire to address the failures of its past record on reducing effectively carbon dioxide emissions, by introducing a clearer long-term emissions reduction framework. With the creation of an independent Committee on Climate Change, and by making emission reduction targets statutory, the political risk generated by failing to reach such targets should help to focus the minds of Ministers and officials on the need to reduce emissions. In addition, if the independent Committee is able in its analysis to indicate which policies or Departments have caused targets not to be reached, accountability, and potentially therefore performance, should be improved. Nevertheless, although this progress is welcome, aspects of the evidence that we have received for this inquiry have indicated to us that there is a need for an additional policy framework to lead to further emission reductions. (Paragraph 65)
11.Through the adoption of significant emission reduction targets, the Government has stated its intention radically to transform the UK economy through the dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Given the scale of the challenge there is a clear need for a long-term policy framework to identify the role everyone in Government has to play from individual policy makers up to Permanent Secretaries and Ministers. The starting point for this exercise should be an assessment of the likely structure of the UK economy in 2050, following at least a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Developing policies back from an end-point in this way must lead to the Government deciding against policies that lock-in long-term emissions that will result in the UK missing emissions targets, or will at least ensure that where a particularly high emission policy is adopted other policies will reduce emissions by the same amount. Part of this exercise will include the development of individual sectoral strategies describing the necessary effort to be borne by different parts of the economy. (Paragraph 69)
12.Given the long-term nature of such an assessment, various factors of risk will need to be included including the pace of technological advancement and an assessment of long-term trends. Although there is inherent uncertainty in the creation of such a policy framework, such uncertainty can be factored in, and a framework will ensure better that trade-offs are made in a rational manner with an eye to 2050 objectives. The development of such a framework must be transparent, participatory, and will heavily draw on external expertise. (Paragraph 70)
13.The Government must, in conjunction with a new long-term policy framework, create a new long-term climate change impact policy framework. This will include the use of scenarios to identify those areas in 2050 likely to suffer from the negative impacts of climate change, such as flooding or water shortages, and use this information to inform appropriate planning policies. This is particularly important given the Government's plans dramatically to increase house building, especially in light of recent floods. It would be disastrous if as a result of inappropriate planning today these new developments become the climate slums of tomorrow. (Paragraph 72)
The civil service
14.There is an important role for the senior civil service to play in ensuring that climate change is addressed by Whitehall, especially in those policy areas which might fall between Departments. In order to ensure that climate change is addressed better by civil servants we recommend that a greater degree of performance management should relate specifically to climate change objectives. This should include performance assessment that values and rewards working practices that are required to tackle climate change, such as cross-Departmental working. More directly, performance-related pay could be connected to meeting climate change-related policies. We recommend that the Cabinet Office, in conjunction with the Office of Climate Change, explore the potential for aligning performance management of appropriate civil servants with climate change objectives. (Paragraph 82)
15.It is too early to say whether the Capability Reviews and other programmes to ensure that the professional skills required by the Civil service to deal with climate change, such as effective project management, will be successful. Although on the face of it these professional skills appear not directly to relate to climate change, failure to address these general skill shortages will undermine attempts to move the UK to a low carbon economy. This fact should provide added impetus to the modernisation agenda in the Civil service. The Government and senior Civil service must continue to drive up professional skills and standards across the Civil service. (Paragraph 86)
16.We believe that external appointments have an important role to play in equipping the Civil service with the range of skills required to tackle climate change, especially in those areas where the Civil service is unlikely to be able to develop the skills itself. We agree with witnesses that policy makers are more likely to develop more effective policy for climate change where they act more like coordinators, bringing together experts from all sectors, including the private sector, third sector and academia. We therefore call for a further increase in the movement of people into and out of the Civil service. However, any changes should be implemented in such a way that the benefits associated with the long-term employment of highly-skilled civil servants are not lost. (Paragraph 91)
17.We recommend that the Government undertakes a study to identify climate change skill and knowledge gaps in Government for important sectors, including energy, transport and construction. On the basis of this evidence the Government and Civil service should seek to fill the identified gaps with those individuals that have the best credentials, whether or not the individual is appointed internally or externally. (Paragraph 92)

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