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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 04:25 GMT
Whitehall 'fails on eco-targets'
Thermal image of a government building (Image: IRT Surveys)
The DTI was one of the few to put in a "strong performance"
UK government departments failed to meet targets on cutting carbon emissions, waste and water use last year, a watchdog's annual report says.

The assessment of 19 departments by the Sustainable Development Commission found "patchy data and poor performance across most areas" - as it did in 2005.

Most ministries were "using energy less efficiently" although recycling had increased by 8% over the year.

The government said steps were being taken to ensure the targets were met.

The report said most departments were unlikely to hit the target of cutting carbon emissions by 12.5% from 1990 levels by 2010.

"Overall, government performance is simply not good enough," said Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

"Against a backdrop of non-stop messages on climate change and corporate social responsibility, the government has failed to get its own house in order.

"It is absolutely inexcusable that the government is lagging so far behind the private sector, when it should be leading the way."

Missing data

The report, Sustainable Development in Government 2006, examined the environmental impact resulting from the operations of 19 departments and their executive agencies.

Recycling bins (Image: BBC)
Government departments scored well on recycling

The findings showed that the government estate during 2006 was responsible for 806,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, generated 186,400 tonnes of waste, and consumed 25 million cubic metres of water.

Eleven ministries, including the Department of Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), saw an increase in their carbon emissions compared with the previous 12 months.

Although recycling increased, the overall amount of waste produced increased by about 23,000 tonnes. Nine departments could not provide "proper waste data".

During a year that saw widespread water restrictions across southern England, officials consumed an average of 10.2 cubic metres per person, failing to meet the government imposed target of 7.7 cubic metres.

It is time permanent secretaries were held accountable for meeting these targets
Jonathon Porritt,
SDC chairman

The study, compiled for the SDC by Entec UK, an environmental consultancy, did highlight areas where progress had been made.

Three percent more electricity was being sourced from renewable sources, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) located on the government estate were "well managed".

The commission praised "strong performances" by the departments for trade and industry (DTI), health, and work and pensions.

But it was critical of "very poor performances" by the Cabinet Office and the transport and culture departments.

Held to account

Mr Porritt called on the government to "get to grips" with Whitehall's environmental impact.

"It must ratchet up responsibility to the most senior level, instead of leaving it to hopelessly under-resourced officials down the line," he said.

"It is time permanent secretaries were held accountable for meeting these targets."

Environment Secretary David Miliband accepted it was not enough just to set targets, but said they had to be met too.

"Government is committed to playing its role in tackling climate change and reducing emissions, alongside the actions already being taken by business and individuals," he said.

The minister added that he had asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell to take "personal charge" of delivering the targets.

"And we have asked the prime minister's delivery unit to recommend by the end of April the structures we need to put in place to ensure these targets are delivered," Mr Miliband said.




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