Government snuffs out flame of sustainable development
In 2005, the Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy, Securing the Future, strengthened the Sustainable Development Commission’s role as an independent watchdog. It scrutinised Government progress, monitored its targets and primed public debate on anything from health inequality to the Severn Barrage. No longer. Gone for £4.5m. Instead of the SDC telling uncomfortable truths to Government, Government will monitor itself.
Or as Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman expressed it on 22 July:
“I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility to an external body. I have accordingly decided that I will withdraw Defra funding from the Sustainable Development Commission at the end of the current financial year, and instead take a personal lead, with an enhanced departmental capability and presence.”
As SDC chair Will Day commented, monitoring Government performance “is not always a comfortable position to promote, but is one that needs to be pursued ….it is the independence that lies at the heart of the SDC’s remit from government.”
- So, for instance, in 2009, the SDC reported Government departments had made significant steps towards reducing waste, but were still not on course to meet their own target for reducing carbon emissions by 12.5% … “far more remains to be done if they are to make a real contribution towards meeting UK-wide targets for 80% emissions reductions by 2050.”
- As the economic crisis deepened, the SDC argued that ‘Green stimulus’ initiatives were needed to match the ambition of climate change targets set by the Committee on Climate Change.
- SDC Commissioner Tess Gill has worked tirelessly with the TUC, trade unions and business to argue the case for a green skills strategy in the transition to a low carbon economy.
- This year, its report, Sustainable development: the key to tackling health inequalities, argued that climate change resulting from carbon emissions poses potentially catastrophic risks to human health and threatens to widen health inequalities between rich and poor populations in the UK.
Will the Comprehensive Spending review leave either Defra or DECC with the in-house capacity to credibly monitor Government? Will either Department match the independent, stimulating SDC research that primes public debate on health inequality, nuclear power, skills, green investment, the Severn Barrage, public transport or the many other areas of public policy at the heart of a sustainable, low carbon future?
Greenest government ever? In championing sustainable development in Government, independence was the SDC’s usp. All gone for £4.5m.