By Claire West
This week's report from the Environmental Audit Committee : “Embedding Sustainable Development across Government” confirms that sustainable development has not been fully embedded across Government because the political will to do so has not been maintained. However, it does not go far enough in calling for urgent institutional reform to make this the “greenest government ever”, say WWF-UK and FDSD.
WWF-UK and FDSD share the Committee’s concern that sustainable development will become sidelined unless it is part of the central change-making mechanisms of Government. The two organisations endorse the Environmental Audit Committee’s proposal that a Minister for Sustainable Development be appointed within the Cabinet Office to drive action on sustainable development across government. However, WWF-UK and FDSD warn that it is essential that DEFRA’s existing sustainable development expertise is not watered down.
Endorsing the Committee’s recommendation that a new Sustainable Development Strategy be developed to revitalise Government engagement, Halina Ward, Director of the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development cautioned “it is nonsense to expect the Cabinet Office or any new Sustainable Development Minister to review the sustainable development implications of departmental policy proposals, plans and practices when the Government has no sustainable development strategy in place to provide a transparent benchmark for transparency or for accountability to the UK’s citizens”.
While the Cabinet Office, or a new Minister, can coordinate action across the Government, they cannot provide independent advice and scrutiny. Parliament must play a stronger role. WWF-UK and FDSD endorse the Committee’s view that the EAC is not properly resourced to carry out the routine scrutiny work previously carried out by independent watchdog the Sustainable Development Commission. Equally, it is clear that academics, NGOs and community groups are in a limited position to do so.
Carol Hatton, Solicitor at WWF-UK said: “We were appalled at the speed and ease with which the Coalition Government has been able to unravel bodies such as the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution. We clearly need new mechanisms with real teeth that are less vulnerable to attack . A beefed up Cabinet office with a new Minister in no way replaces the SDC as it will not provide independent advice and scrutiny - only new institutional measures outside of Government can do this.”
Speaking about an emerging Coalition of NGOs inspired by the Hungarian scrutiny model of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations, Halina Ward added: “Over the coming months, we’ll be working with a range of other NGOs in a new coalition to ensure long-termism and respect for future generations in the UK’s democracy so that we get the sustainable development that we desperately need. We see House of Lords reform as a first opportunity to secure the changes that are needed. Any proposals for reform of the Lords should be designed to ensure that concern for future generations is part of its remit.”