The National Audit Office is to carry out a detailed assessment of the environmental impacts of the upcoming Spending Review.
The Spending Review will be published on November 25, setting out how the government plans to find £20bn in departmental savings in a bid to eliminate the UK's deficit by 2019/2020.
Departments have been asked to draw up plans for cuts to their resource budgets of between 25% and 40%, and both departments with responsibility for environmental policy – the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – are unprotected.
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MPs on parliament's Environmental Audit Committee have asked the NAO to investigate whether policy decisions made at the review are aligned with wider environmental goals.
"Addressing environmental risks sooner rather than later can bring significant benefits for business, the economy and citizens," committee chair Huw Irranca-Davis – a Labour MP – said.
"It is crucial that the government's spending decisions do not saddle future taxpayers with higher costs as a result of avoidable damage to human health or the environment."
According to Irranca-Davis, the spending watchdog has been asked to look at whether the Spending Review process has been "informed by the best available evidence" on potential environmental impacts, as well as whether it "fully takes into account the UK's legal commitments on air quality, biodiversity and climate change".
The NAO will look at whether the Spending Review ensures the new Single Departmental Plans – single documents together bringing together all departmental priorities ahead of the Spending Review – include sufficient consideration of environmental and sustainability criteria, and will draw on a recent in-depth briefing for the committee along those lines.
According to that briefing, environmental metrics already "form part" of the SDPs, with preliminary evidence suggesting that they are set to factor in both the environmental impact of departments' day-to-day activity – including business travel energy use in their estate – as well as the impact of their wider policies.