The Houses of Parliament shrouded in fog

UK accused of ‘inconsistent’ carbon emissions reporting

Image credit: George Tsiagalakis

“Vague” guidelines and “fragmented” responsibilities meant fewer than half of all government departments were complying with mandatory carbon emissions reporting, according to the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

MPs in the Public Accounts Committee have criticised the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting across central government. 

The report published by the committee just before the start of COP27 stressed that “inconsistent” reporting of data across the public sector made it difficult to compare performance between periods and departments and could undermine the legally binding target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Leadership and oversight of emissions measurement and reporting in central government is fragmented and ineffective,” it said.

At the moment, three different departments – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis), the Treasury, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – share the responsibility of overseeing carbon emissions reporting. 

As a result, the guidance they issued to other departments was “too vague” and compliance was “low”, the committee said. According to the report, fewer than half of departments currently comply fully with the mandatory elements of HM Treasury’s reporting requirements, and those that do not, are not "held to account". 

The lack of adequate reporting also meant that emissions data was not used to inform government decisions or new policies. 

“Despite the time and resources central government bodies are committing to measuring and reporting their emissions, we are not convinced that they, or the wider public sector, are making sufficient use of their emissions data to drive decision-making," the committee added. 

“We have seen little evidence that public bodies are using the data available to estimate the potential costs of decarbonising the sector, or to identify priorities and develop plans.”

Due to these failings, the report stated that the government’s promise to “lead by example” on achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was not being met.

To address this issue, the committee recommended that the government follow the example of the private sector, where some firms are seeking to measure and report on the indirect emissions attributable to their operations such as those arising from goods and services purchased from external suppliers.

“Government promised to lead the way to national decarbonisation but isn’t even putting its own house in order," said the committee chair, Dame Meg Hillier. 

“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.”

The report was made public on the same day that a survey for aid agency Cafod found that nearly 6 in 10 people think the government is doing too little to tackle climate change. The poll also revealed that more than a third of those surveyed thought the UK was not doing enough to support poorer countries address the consequences of global warming. 

Questioned on the government’s target to achieve net zero by 2050 and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, overall 47 per cent of people said the government was not committed to the goal, while 19 per cent thought it was.

Graham Gordon, Cafod’s head of public policy, said: “The reality of the climate crisis is already here. In the UK, our summer saw 40°C heat and even now in winter, we’ve had temperatures hit 20°C.”

But he warned that elsewhere in the world the consequences of climate change have been “deadly”.

“It has become painfully clear the government’s knee-jerk reaction to pursue more fossil fuels will not only cause more devastation, but it’s against the public wishes too.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have halved emissions from the central government estate in the last 12 years, and invested £2.5bn in supporting those running our public buildings such as schools and hospitals to make similar progress.

“This is on top of our wider efforts to increase our use of homegrown energy such as renewables, increasing our energy security while meeting our net-zero ambitions"

The publication of the report followed the announcement that neither new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak nor King Charles would be attending the COP27 summit in Egypt, due to take place later this week. The decision prompted accusations that the administration is not taking climate change seriously, despite having hosted COP26 a year prior. Following the backlash, Sunak has backtracked on his decision and will now be in attendance. 

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