The UK Government’s commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” on the road to net zero is not being met, says MPs. In a report published this week, the public accounts committee (PAC) is critical of the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting across central government.
PAC report conclusions
- BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) is not communicating progress on decarbonisation in the public sector clearly enough and does not hold individual departments to account.
- The public sector as a whole lacks clear standards for measuring and reporting emissions.
- Leadership and oversight of emissions measurement and reporting in central government is fragmented and ineffective.
- We are not convinced that departments are making effective use of the emissions data to drive decision-making.
- The public sector risks falling behind on the reporting of its emissions but could learn from developing practice in private sector and the devolved administrations.
Responsibility for emissions reporting is split across three departments and the guidance issued is too vague, the committee says. This contributes to compliance on reporting standards being low across central government. Despite the time and resources being committed by central government bodies, the committee is not convinced that they or the wider public sector are using emissions data to drive decision-making.
Fewer than half of departments comply fully with the mandatory elements of HM Treasury’s reporting requirements. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has overall responsibility for delivering net zero, but does not “hold individual departments to account”.
Outside of central government there are currently no agreed reporting principles or standards. Different parts of the public sector have been developing their own approaches to measuring and reporting their emissions. The public sector as a whole risks falling behind on the emissions reporting and “could learn from developing practice in the private sector and the devolved administrations”.
PAC report recommendations
- BEIS should regularly publish data setting out the progress the public sector is making on decarbonisation and how this compares to the required trajectory. It should also set out what it will do if individual departments and parts of the public sector are under-performing in this area.
- BEIS and HM Treasury should set a timetable for issuing consistent standards for measuring and reporting emissions that is applicable to the entire public sector.
- BEIS, HM Treasury and Defra should work together to consolidate, simplify and clarify current measuring and reporting guidance. This should set out clear expectations for reporting across central government as well as the processes that will be followed in addressing non-compliance.
- BEIS should make full use of the data it collates to plan its decarbonisation activities and establish a process to regularly identify and share examples of good practice and learning in decarbonisation across central government and the wider public sector.
- BEIS and HM Treasury should ensure that the reporting requirements placed on the public sector are aligned with their objective to lead by example in delivering net zero. This should include consideration of which bodies should report their scope 3 emissions and how best this should be done.
Room for improvement
Olivia Blake, Sheffield Hallam MP and member of the PAC, said:
“It isn’t good enough. Just last week the UN declared that there is currently no credible pathway to 1.5C in place. And according to BEIS’ own emissions projections the UK is set to overshoot our 2030 Paris emissions commitment by a huge 40%.
We should be in crisis mode, but instead today’s report shows that the Government is failing to get even our own house in order. Weak, unclear guidance for emissions reductions, with no accountability or follow up won’t reverse this trajectory.
Government departments should be working collaboratively and effectively to set ambitious targets across the public sector that meet net-zero requirements, regularly monitor and report on those targets, and hold Departments to account if those targets are not being met. Anything less is a complete dereliction of duty.”
Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The targets set to maintain our world in a liveable state are not ‘nice to have’. Government made a legally binding commitment to deliver net zero by 2050.
“Government promised to lead the way to national decarbonisation but isn’t even putting its own house in order. 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”