The Committee published its report on the "greening Government" initiative in July (ENDS Report 282, pp 37-39 ). It expressed disappointment at what it perceived as a lack of "active leadership" from the Prime Minister and senior colleagues. The report also urged a more active role for the group of Green Ministers. And it recommended measures to improve environmental appraisal of policies, environmental reporting, and green housekeeping and environmental management systems in Whitehall.
The Government's response makes plenty of positive noises. But it has accepted only a few of the recommendations in full. The Committee intends to keep up the pressure with a short inquiry early in 1999.
The Government has gone part-way to accepting this recommendation, announcing that the Committee's remit has been revised to read: "To consider environmental policies and coordinate those on sustainable development." However, on the second part of the Audit Committee's recommendation, it merely notes that other Cabinet Committees are "of course expected" to take account of sustainable development.
The Government has accepted the recommendation that the Cabinet Committee should receive regular reports from Green Ministers (see below).
The Audit Committee also recommended that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) should, in conjunction with the Cabinet Office, monitor the effectiveness of the environmental statements which are supposed to accompany relevant Cabinet papers. The Govern-ment has rejected this recommendation, but has promised to introduce a formal requirement on Departments to seek the DETR's views when preparing Cabinet papers with "significant environmental implications."
In its response, the Government promises that all three of these issues will be considered at each of the Green Ministers' three meetings per year. A "cross-cutting issue of current interest" will also be considered. Objectives and targets for their work programme will be set "wherever possible".
The Government has also promised that Green Ministers will report to the Cabinet Committee twice a year, beginning at the end of 1998. Annual reports will also be published - though these will not be the reports submitted to the Cabinet Committee, as advocated by the Audit Committee.
Firstly, it advocated an annual report to Parliament on the Government's performance against its sustainable development strategy and targets, backed by an annual volume of sustainable development indicators as well as a comprehensive assessment of the state of sustainable development in the UK once in a Parliament. The Government has declined to respond, saying that reporting arrangements will be announced when the strategy is published early next year.
Secondly, the Committee recommended that there should be an annual parliamentary debate on each progress report on the strategy. But the Government is "not convinced" of the case for using its own time in the Commons for such debates.
Thirdly, the report suggested that all Departments should set out their environmental performance in their annual reports - an area in which they have a particularly poor record. The Government has given a non-committal response, noting that Departments' annual reports are "one vehicle" for environmental reporting, while separate environmental reports are another.
The Government has declined to act. It has been left to individual Departments to justify their approaches to environmental appraisal, formulate their own publication policies, and decide whether to commission external audits.
In response, the Government says that all Departments will be expected to have targets for energy, water, waste and transport by 1999/2000. Benchmarking is to start with energy efficiency.
The Committee also challenged the Government to set itself the same target as it has thrown down to top companies - that at least 75% of Departments should have at least one site certified to the environmental management standard ISO14001 by 2001. The Government says it is "sympathetic" to the idea and promises to "approach future work with that objective in mind."
At present, says Professor Pearce, Departments have little option but to "opt for a mix of professional judgement, 'back of the envelope' calculation, and whatever modelling is available." Guidance is also lacking on multi-criteria analysis, even though this technique is becoming more widely accepted. The report calls for a manual on the use of valuation techniques in support of cost-benefit analyses because "there is evidence that contingent valuation studies are not always carried out in an acceptable manner."
Environment Minister Michael Meacher welcomed the report and announced that the DETR is commissioning further work to fill the gaps it identified: "The Government will initiate projects...to provide guidance material on undertaking multi-criteria analysis and on undertaking contingent valuation."