Government fails to lead the way to net zero emissions – MPs

The UK government is failing in its commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” on decarbonisation, MPs said today.

Public Accounts Committee hearing on net zero, 4 July 2022. Photo: ParliamentLive TV

A report from parliament’s Public Accounts Committee criticised the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting.

It said vague guidance and inconsistent standards led to low compliance with agreed standards.

Fewer than half of government departments complied fully with mandatory reporting requirements.

All these failings made it hard to hold government to account on progress to net zero emissions, the committee said.

It also said it was not convinced that government, or the wider public sector, were using emissions data to shape decision-making. 

Responsibility for emissions reporting is split across three departments and oversight is fragmented, the committee said.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has overall responsibility for delivering net zero emissions by 2050. But it does not hold individual departments to account.

Outside central government, the public sector has no agreed reporting principles or standards.

The committee said different parts of the public sector have been developing their own approaches to measuring and reporting emissions.

Dame Meg Hillier. Photo: Parliament Live TV

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.”


The committee said:

  • BEIS 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.


The committee’s recommendations included:

  • BEIS should regularly publish data setting out the progress the public sector is making on decarbonisation and how this compares to the required trajectory.
  • BEIS and the Treasury should set a timetable for issuing consistent standards for measuring and reporting emissions for the entire public sector.
  • BEIS, the Treasury and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should consolidate, simplify and clarify current measuring and reporting guidance.
  • BEIS should use data it collates to plan decarbonisation activities

14 replies »

  1. So much for the vaunting, frequently found in DorD posts, of our protective U.K. regulatory systems. Data from experiences of fracking elsewhere continue to be as valid and as useful today in assessing the potential effects of fracking as they were five and more years ago during our most active opposition to this foolish and heedless enterprise. Arguments relying on an assumed U.K. experience of fracking being different from what has been encountered elsewhere are absurd, regardless of the geology prevailing.
    Mutatis mutandis, a domestic experience cannot be assumed to produce the same results.
    The truth, as the recent geological report suggests, is that we do not know, and as a result the precautionary principle should apply.

  2. Yes, fracking could actually disturb the lair of the Kraken, expose the public to huge risks regarding tapping into a selenium deposit, and create havoc from lorries with dirty wheels.

    Except, the Kraken is a mythical beast, if a selenium deposit was found then happy days as the selenium deposit would be good news commercially and dirty wheels should be cleaned but if they always were eg. tractors, our food would not appear on our tables.

    For those of tender years, follow the precautionary principle and you will “enjoy” a very lonely life. Don’t ask for that date as he/she may say no! The good news is that if that is followed, the “we’s” become extinct. The bad news is all human life becomes extinct as no form of birth control is 100% effective so the precautionary principle would remove all humans from this planet pretty quickly.

    Within the OED the definition of “testing” exists, 1720. For those unwilling to check the OED, then remember those who made themselves available to test modern medicines, including Covid vaccines. However, as most modern medicines have warnings about possible side effects then the precautionary principle would exclude them from being used!

    For those of tender years, do test it. You may find your initial attempts are not perfect, but you can then adjust your technique, maybe adjust where you attempt it, and perhaps, produce better results.

    Just imagine, those gargantuan structures would not be plonked into the countryside, mincing birds, some falling over and others bursting into flames. Sorry jP, back to yurts and leaches.

    The precautionary principle is an excuse, a nonsense. Just about every endeavor of mankind is based upon risk and reward, even crossing the road, or tying a shoelace.

    Meanwhile, my consultation with heating engineers suggests my best option domestically will be to wait for hydrogen fed boilers. (Having done all the insulation stuff and added an air sourced heat pump for supplementary heat.) That is fine. Wonder who will produce the hydrogen, and how? When that is sorted, then the public sector can also use within their transportation and if I ever acquire a new car, I can do the same. All that new nuclear may help in that respect, eventually, but until then which will beyond many, perhaps other sources just might need to be used.

    • Try not to opine on a subject you clearly do not understand, Martin, especially when it’s not the point of the posting. Your tactics are so transparent!
      Herewith an extract from the relevant EU legislation on the principle – “ According to the European Commission the precautionary principle may be invoked when a phenomenon, product or process may have a dangerous effect, identified by a scientific and objective evaluation, if this evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty.
      Recourse to the principle belongs in the general framework of risk analysis (which, besides risk evaluation, includes risk management and risk communication), and more particularly in the context of risk management which corresponds to the decision-making phase.
      The Commission stresses that the precautionary principle may only be invoked in the event of a potential risk and that it can never justify arbitrary decisions.
      The precautionary principle may only be invoked when the three preliminary conditions are met:
      * identification of potentially adverse effects;
      * evaluation of the scientific data available;
      * the extent of scientific uncertainty.”

      The effect of the principle, properly applied, is not to stifle progress but to prevent deliberate or careless harm by the ruthless.

      Save yourself the bother of telling me that you got us out of the EU.

      • Ahh, 1720 has been able to use his search engine. Unfortunately, it took him to the most abject failure of the precautionary principle. A common occurrence on DoD, but not to be recommended.

        1720, I do have the experience of dealing within the EU with the “precautionary principle” being applied, when products are put forward for authorization. You have no knowledge of the complete abuse of the precautionary principle within the EU, I do. It is often, and I would suggest from experience, frequently used, as an excuse to delay, to kick the can down the road, and usually then results in some grubby deal, usually on some item completely remote from the case under review, to unblock the system. Eventually, and often to do with fishing quotas. Legalized blackmail to gain progress. Although, I would suggest it should not be legal. It has also become much worse as more members have joined the EU and can take part in the game.
        That is the problem with gaining your “knowledge” from the Internet. The theory is frequently not the reality. The precautionary system is very rarely properly applied, especially in the EU. Remember their problems with supply of Covid vaccine? How about their defence spending? Don’t get me started on chlorinated chicken-that was protectionism dressed up as the precautionary principle, as are many of their decisions regarding agriculture, usually ending up favoring small part time EU farmers and costing consumers. It is an excuse for process to delay progress.
        You need to spend some time in a commercial environment, 1720, where the principle is applied that no meetings can complete without a summary of progress having been made, that does not concentrate upon biscuits eaten or coffee consumed, or the date for the next meeting. A much better principle.

        Whilst I had little to do with the UK leaving the EU, the UK is no longer a member and in this respect all the better for it-as long as the UK avoids the sirens calling from the EU rocks.

        (Remember that decision 1720? Where HMG actually campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU! Even that one can be found with a search engine 1720, but not by everyone I recall.)

        You seem to be morphing into a Lib. Dem. They are true believers in the precautionary principle-and the EU. It prevents having to define policy.

  3. At the same time as the committee criticises lack of decarbonisation, another side of government is planning for decarbonisation.. The Guardian reports that the government in “officially sensitive” documents, has “war gamed” emergency plans to cope with energy blackouts lasting up to seven days in the event of a national power outage amid growing fears over security of supply this winter. They are obviously concerned about the Russian threats of retaliation against our gas pipeline to Norway.

    Of course if we’d got going with fracking a few years ago there’s a fair chance we would have a decent supply of home produced gas which, in the event of an emergency, could have been kept for U.K. use.
    Remember the four strands of energy policy..
    1. Environment 2. Cost 3. Reliability 4. SECURITY.

    • Shalewatcher – Germany went for 2. – Cost – only. They became dependent on Russian gas, not good for the environment, clearly not reliable, and zero security……. They won’t make the same mistake again. Since February they have built their first LNG import terminal, several LNG ships and are buying fracked gas from the US.


      • Agreed Paul, a foolish decision. Prior to the war in Ukraine the U.K. was considered to be one of the most energy secure countries in the world, largely due to diversification of supply. I am glad that you cite the importance of the environment too, We all recognise we cannot move away from gas overnight but the government has not done as much as they should have and a much faster transition away from fossil fuels is possible. It requires strategy, investment and commitment. None of which have been shown over the past twelve years. Words and rhetoric will not deliver Net Zero action will.

    • ‘Of course if we’d got going with fracking a few years ago there’s a fair chance we would have a decent supply of home produced gas which, in the event of an emergency, could have been kept for U.K. use.’

      It’s hard to remember it was that long ago but on 26/07/2010 Cuadrilla submitted their first application with intent to frack the Becconsall well. That application was passed on 20/10/2010.

      No decent supply of home produced gas even though they ‘got going’ with granted permission 12 years ago


  4. All those arguing for more gas instead of less are not only ignoring the high price of gas but ignoring the fact the world is currently on course for a dangerous almost 3C increase in temperature. Fracking would not lower energy prices.
    Better energy efficiency, more renewables, nuclear, battery and other energy storage measures, green hydrogen and CCS for carbon dependent industry. This is the future and is not only essential it is now critical. Our gas consumption is projected to fall and must do to achieve net zero.
    I’ve had a heat pump for almost ten years as my only heat source, my house is toasty in all weather, it is reliable and economical. And note how popular and successful heat pumps are in much colder, Scandinavian countries – so please don’t persist with the myth they don’t work or are incapable of heating homes satisfactorily.
    As for blackouts, the Grid were at pains to point out that we have to plan for the worst case scenario, given the war in Ukraine. And this just further highlights the foolishness of this government in banning onshore wind and turning its nose up at solar. Two of the cheapest and quickest forms of energy production. That along with the foolish decision to “cut the green ….” has all contributed to the mess we are in. Had the government got its act together, there would be less energy consumed, cheaper energy and the need for LNG largely or even completely eliminated. This would leave us with imports by pipe from Norway and the North Sea.
    The investment in upgrading the grid, in green energy is now the only way forward, for the sake of true energy security and for a sustainable planet.

    • Thanks, KatT. I think you are right about onshore wind and, notwithstanding cost, I’d like to see tidal energy restored to the mix. Research into the pros and cons of the latter seems to have dried up, or at least to have received too little attention from the media. The future, if there is one, will be scathing about government’s huge contribution to the various predicaments in which we find ourselves.

      • I quite like the idea of tidal energy yet there is a reason why private funding has not been quick in coming forward. It is an expensive form of energy provision. The one scheme that was put forward a long time ago, the Swansea Lagoon, is a classic example. The other point on that one which usually avoids consideration is that the “locals” voted against! The locals at St. Keverne in Cornwall who were expected to put up with all that disturbance, emissions and seismic activity from vast quantities of granite being blasted to produce the material for the lagoon.

  5. Reuters reports that “Germany has called for European Union states to work with countries that can develop new gas fields,” and even the Greens in Germany accept that there is no alternative at the moment to increased use of fossil fuels to cover the Russian supply cuts. Maybe Germany can persuade Macron to explore the French shale resources although I doubt it somehow.

    • Macron will be fully aware that shale gas is expensive, dirty, dangerous, unreliable, and doesn’t make a dent into energy security. Maybe Cuadrilla could try and convince him otherwise but their proven failings here and in Europe will not help their case.

  6. Maybe USA would convince him, jP, even though those noisy wind turbines that had to be turned off a while ago in France have probably been allowed to be turned back on?
    Maybe it will take more mass demonstrations in France against the cost of energy? Remember those?

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