The UK is in danger of going backwards on its sustainability record, warned MPs and former government advisor Jonathon Porritt, after its decision to scrap its independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).
Set up in 2000, the SDC has produced a number of influential reports on tidal power, nuclear and the groundbreaking but perhaps ill-timed 2009 report on the failings of, and alternatives, to economic growth. At the time of its publication, the Treasury was reported to have told the watchdog that the report 'wasn't the kind of advice the UK Government needed'.
In a statement yesterday Environment Minister Caroline Spelman said sustainability was now 'part of everyday business' across Government and that there was no need for the body, which costs £4 million a year to run.
However, both the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and former Chair of the SDC, Jonathon Porritt, questioned Defra's claim that sustainable development was already 'embedded in every department'. The EAC said Defra had also provided no indication of how it would champion sustainability across Government or what resources would be made available.
'Defra Ministers are now claiming that sustainable development has been embedded in every department. In other words, no specialist capability at the centre is any longer required, simply because the Government ‘gets it’. Like hell it does,' said Porritt.
Porritt also accused Spelman of 'brazen cycnism' for also claiming she would 'take the lead role in driving the sustainability agenda across the whole of Government'.
'The only thing Mrs Spelman has done so far as Secretary of State at Defra is publish a new strategy for the Department. This has not one serious reference to sustainable development in it. Such is the depth of her concern,' he said.
The Welsh Assembly Government, which part-funds the SDC along with the Scottish and Northern Ireland administrations, also questioned how a government could effectively independently scrutinise itself.
Welsh environment minister Jane Davidson said she was 'disappointed' by the unilateral decision to cut funding for the SDC and said there was a continuing need to, 'seek independent advice on sustainable development'.
Porritt said the new Government was 'ideologically opposed' to the idea of being independently judged on its sustainability performance.
'Their justification for getting rid of the SDC is transparently vacuous, if not downright dishonest. This is an ideological decision – in other words, a decision driven by dogma not by evidence-based, rational analysis.
'The only conceivable reason for allowing dogma to dominate in this way is that the Government doesn’t want anyone independently auditing its performance on sustainable development.'
Sustainable Development Commission
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