Sustainability 'undone' by Treasury and BIS, says Porritt

| 6th July 2009
Business as usual
Sustainability has been held up by the 'indifference' of Treasury and 'mixed messages' from the Department for Business
The outgoing chief of the Government's independent sustainability watchdog, Jonathon Porritt, has criticised the Treasury and Department for Business for a failure to advance the sustainable development agenda

Jonathon Porritt used his ‘swan song’ speech as the outgoing president of the Government’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) to lambast the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS, formerly BERR) for a lack of commitment to the sustainable agenda.

He was speaking at the Breakthroughs for the 21st Century conference in Westminster last Wednesday, and began by hailing the ‘extraordinary, burgeoning cohort of people making this agenda really work operationally now’ before condemning the two departments that ‘lie at the heart of the underperformance we still see in government’.

‘Looking back over nine years, what I regret most is the number of potential breakthroughs in the course of that time crushed, utterly, by Treasury’s seigneurial indifference,’ he said.

The conference was convened to present 19 ‘breakthrough ideas’ in three broad categories: sustainable lives, places and economy, some of whose proposed schemes – green bonds and the Royal Bank of Sustainability – Porritt said the Treasury would greet with ‘lip-curling contempt’.

‘It has shown little curiosity in what has excited all of you today,’ he said. ‘It is ridiculous they are stuck in the place that they are and excruciatingly painful… to have civil society, academia and even the business community out there so far ahead of parts of government. That isn’t the way it’s suppose to be.’

He went on criticise BIS, run by Peter Mandelson, for ‘crude, heedless growthism’ and 'systematically mixed messages [that] undo the ability of public sector organisations to deliver real public value.

'We would love sustainable development to be further down the road than it is,' he said. 'We would love sustainable development to be closer to being the central organising principle for everything that government does. It seems to me that we are a way off that.'

The morning’s keynote speaker, climate secretary Ed Miliband – whose department was recently described by Professor Kevin Anderson as a 'small dog yapping at the heels' of BIS – talked about ‘expanding the circle of the committed’ in the climate change debate.

‘The default position has to change,’ he said about opposition to wind farms. ‘The default position has to become, the biggest threat to the countryside is not a wind turbine [but] climate change. But you can only convince people of that if you can persuade them of the scale of the threat.

‘We need all the low-carbon fuels at our disposal because the threat is so great,’ he added. ‘That includes not just renewable energy… but nuclear power and clean fossil fuels as well.’

Other 'breakthroughs' at the conference included Incredible Edible Todmorden, biochar, Kyoto 2, personal carbon budgets and an algae 'forest' to capture carbon from power stations.

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