Government emissions reporting ‘inconsistent’ and guidance ‘too vague’, report finds

Inconsistent reporting and poor quality measurement of emissions data across the public sector is undermining the government’s net zero pledge, MPs have found.

Source - GettyImages, Paul Panayiotou Houses of Parliament, London, England, UK

A public accounts committee (PAC) report, published on Wednesday, found that the guidance for reporting emissions is too vague, resulting in low standards of compliance across government.

The report found that progress on decarbonisation is not being communicated effectively by the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) meaning that it is not possible to identify which areas of the public sector are doing well or lagging behind. The department is also not holding individuals to account if they fall behind, according to the committee.

The committee is also unconvinced that central government bodies or the wider public sector is using emissions data for decision-making.

A further concern is over the targets set. The committee has questioned whether the targets actually align with the decarbonisation needed to meet net zero, adding that the assumptions which underpin BEIS plans for public sector decarbonisation have not been published which means “neither parliament nor the public know what future technological advances it is relying on”.

A key issue found was that the public sector “lacks clear standards” for measuring and reporting emissions, and there is currently only mandatory reporting guidance for the central government. According to the report this makes published emissions data difficult to contrast and compare. Responsibility for emissions reporting is split across DEFRA, BEIS and HM Treasury, but BEIS is the net zero lead.

Fewer than half of departments had fully complied with the Treasury’s mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting requirements, according to research from the National Audit Office included in the report.

The report recommended BEIS and HM Treasury set consistent standards for measuring and reporting emissions for the whole sector. In terms of overall leadership and oversight of the reporting process, it was recommended that all three departments work together to “consolidate, simplify and clarify current measuring and reporting guidance”.

The report said that the public sector should “lead by example” in delivering net zero, adding that  it is currently “falling behind”. It recommended following the example of developing practice in the private sector as well as what devolved administrations are doing.

Being able to measure this performance is important as the government is legally obligated to reach net zero emissions by 2050, under the climate Change Act 2019. In October, the government accepted that its Net Zero Strategy did not meet its obligations, after a high court challenge, meaning it now has eight months to include a quantified account of how its policies will actually achieve climate targets.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Dame Meg Hillier 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 so that it can be properly held to account”

A BEIS spokesperson said: "We have halved emissions from the central Government estate in the last 12 years, and invested £2.5billion in supporting those running our public buildings such as schools and hospitals to make similar progress.

“This is on top of our wider efforts to increase our use of home-grown energy such as renewables, increasing our energy security while meeting our net zero ambitions.”