Departments under fire for ‘fragmented and ineffective’ net-zero work

MPs say government’s commitment to “lead by example” on combatting climate change is not being met
Wind farm

By Jim Dunton

03 Nov 2022

The three departments tasked with spearheading the government’s drive to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to meet the nation’s net-zero 2050 obligations are presiding over a regime that is “fragmented and ineffective”, MPs have warned.

Responsibility for emissions reporting is split between the Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In 2017, the Clean Growth Strategy committed the government to lead by example in both reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and in transparent reporting across the public sector.

But according to members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, guidance on reporting is too vague, which contributes to low compliance on reporting standards across central government.

PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier said that despite making a legally-binding commitment to deliver net zero by 2050, and promising to lead the way to decarbonising the nation, the government is still not putting its own house in order.

“The targets set to maintain our world in a liveable state are not ‘nice to have’,” she said.

“Vague guidance and lack of follow up make it hard for the public to hold the government to account. A free for all on reporting veils progress or lack of it.

“Government needs to be clearer and must publish consistent standards for measuring and reporting emissions across the public sector so that it can be properly held to account.”

BEIS has overall responsibility for delivering net zero across government, but MPs accused it of not communicating progress on decarbonisation in the public sector clearly enough and of failing to hold individual departments to account.

MPs said that while the department publishes annual estimates on direct public-sector emissions from buildings, the data was not granular enough to identify which parts of the public sector are doing well and which are lagging behind.

BEIS also agrees emissions-reduction targets with central government departments through the Greening Government Commitments, which Defra publishes annual progress reports on.

While Defra’s GGCs require emissions to be reported by source, the Treasury’s sustainability reporting guidance requires public-sector bodies to classify emissions in terms of “scopes” for annual report purposes, which is a classification used internationally and by the private sector.

MPs said the “fragmented and ineffective” leadership and oversight of emissions measurement and reporting in central government meant that some departments did not know what was expected of them.

The PAC report noted that fewer than half of departments complied fully with the mandatory elements of the Treasury’s reporting requirements.

It added that outside of central government, there are currently no agreed reporting principles or standards, with different parts of the public sector choosing to develop their own approaches to measuring and reporting their emissions.

“The public sector as a whole risks falling behind on emissions reporting and could learn from developing practice in the private sector and the devolved administrations,” the MPs said.

Among their recommendations, MPs said BEIS and the Treasury should set a timetable for issuing consistent standards for measuring and reporting emissions that can be applied to the whole public sector.

They also called on BEIS, the Treasury and Defra to work together to “consolidate, simplify and clarify current measuring and reporting guidance” in a way that would set out clear expectations for reporting across central government – as well as processes for addressing non-compliance.

BEIS had not responded to CSW’s request for a response to the committee’s findings at the time of publication.

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