Government emissions fall 35% in five years

But State of the Estate report finds failure to meet target to cut amount of waste generated

By Jim Dunton

21 Apr 2023

The Cabinet Office has said government is on track to achieve a 50% reduction in public sector carbon emissions by 2032 on the basis of figures contained in a new report on the performance of the government’s property portfolio.

According to the State of the Estate report for 2021-22, emissions from government operations fell by 35% in the five years from 2017-18, with emissions from buildings down 10%.

However, the report found government as a whole failed to meet a target to reduce the overall amount of waste generated by 15% against a baseline set in 2017-18 – and instead exceeded the baseline by 21%. Nevertheless, it noted that 16 out of 20 departments had either met or exceeded the target.

Despite the waste figures, Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart said the report showed that government was on track to meet its 2032 obligations and the legally mandated commitment to make the UK a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

“We want to make government more efficient in all areas, and today’s report shows that the public estate is playing its part,” Burghart said.

“We are greening our estate more and have reduced carbon emissions by 35% as we head towards net zero by 2050.”

The Cabinet Office told CSW that most of the overall increase in waste from the government was the result of major projects undertaken by the Department for Transport, which accounted for 87% of total government waste in 2021-2022.

It said that of the 1,007,327 tonnes of total waste generated by DfT, only 103 tonnes – or 0.01% –  had been sent to landfill. Examples of reuse included giving 40,000 tonnes of soil waste to Peterborough Rugby Club to repair and improve its pitches and providing 13,000 tonnes of clay to the Environment Agency for use as part of a flood-mitigation scheme in Boston.

The report said the property portfolio owned or managed by central government departments and their agencies contained 142,965 structures in 2021-22, down 2% on the previous year. Total floorspace was up 2% to 160 million square metres – likely a result of the disposal of numerous smaller buildings and the opening of a small number of larger ones, such as hubs.

The total value of the property portfolio was given as £188.2bn, up 8% on the previous year.

The State of the Estate report covers a period largely before the spike in energy prices prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, running costs for the portfolio were said to have increased by 0.3% to £22bn, even when adjusted for inflation.

Elsewhere, the report detailed more than £600m in sales receipts generated for the taxpayer through the disposal of government property in the 12 months to March last year, including the Windsor House tower block in Victoria Street and the historic Custom House in the City of London.

Last year’s Government Property Strategy, published by the Cabinet Office, set out plans to reduce the government’s central London office holdings – its so-called Whitehall campus – to 16 buildings by 2030.

State of the Estate said a further 13 central London buildings had been closed or disposed of during the financial year, but suggested a working target of 17 Whitehall campus buildings for 2030.

It reiterated a target of having no more than 40,000 full-time-equivalent staff based in central London by the end of the decade, aided by the Places for Growth jobs-relocation programme. The figure at the start of the decade was 68,000. The report said the Whitehall campus strategy was based on 50% in-person attendance.

This story was updated at 10:15am on 26 April 2023 to include additional information from the Cabinet Office

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