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The government has a number of sustainability targets, including the commitment in the Climate Change Act 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.
In 2014 a net reduction of 36% in UK greenhouse gas emissions was achieved against 1990 levels. Some 22% of emissions came from the domestic transport sector, which is now the largest emitting sector.
The Committee’s remit includes a responsibility to audit government departments’ and agencies’ performance against sustainable development and environmental protection targets. To fulfil this function the National Audit Office
(NAO) were asked to review the work of the Department for Transport (DfT) to assess how it has embedded sustainability into its work.
The Committee drew on the NAO’s overview, previous departmental business plans and evidence from DfT officials, the transport sector and local government to examine DfT policies and policy making, governance and operations from a sustainable
The NAO concluded that the DfT has taken many positive steps to meeting the challenge of sustainability in the transport sector. The Committee report focuses on those areas where the DfT might go further.
Recent annual reports were found to have failed to cross-reference departmental progress against important metrics such as Sustainable Development Indicators. The Committee recommended that the DfT communicate to the sector more SMART—specific,
measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related—commitments on sustainable transport, through its Single Departmental Plan (SDP) and the forthcoming carbon reduction plan, and ensure that its annual report sets out clearly its
progress against those commitments.
The rail industry set itself targets to reduce emissions per passenger kilometre, drawing on industry energy-efficiency best practice. This led to an ambition to reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 37%.
The Committee recommended that:
CCC advice on the lowest-cost pathway to the UK’s 2050 emissions reduction target included an interim 2025 decarbonisation objective, which the transport sector is projected to miss by almost 50%.
A recommendation was made that the DfT set out in the government’s forthcoming carbon reduction plan how it intends to deal with this shortfall in decarbonisation.
The EU’s 2020 renewable energy target, set out in the EU Renewable Energy Directive EU Regulation 2009/28/EC(RED), is for the UK to procure 15% of its overall energy consumption, including 10% of its transport energy consumption,
from renewable sources in 2020.Difficulties so far in staying on course to meet the transport sub-target were emphasised. Following Brexit, the sector will look to the government for certainty about the future of these targets.A recommendation
was made that the government retain the overall renewable energy target in UK law, incorporate the transport sub-target into it, and set out how it intends to work with other departments to meet targets.
It recommended that:
The Committee noted that VW continues to lag behind the DfT’s preferred timescale for recalling vehicles that contain emissions test cheat devices.
Concern was also raised that, some nine months on from the emergence of the VW story, the opportunity to investigate VW’s behaviour and, potentially, to take legal action, seems to have been let slide.
The DfT was found to have a robust project appraisal system. However if decisions on the environmental impact of individual projects are made in isolation across multiple projects, it lead to an aggregate impact that cannot be fully mitigated.
Board level discussions take place regarding key environmental issues, but it is unclear how effectively these are linked to the strategic discussions and decisions elsewhere.
Recommendations were made:
The DfT was found to have good performance against the majority of the Greening Government Commitments, which set out goals for departments to tackle their carbon emissions, water use, waste, and supply chain impacts. Network Rail is however
not currently included within the list of departmental bodies which must report against these standards and the Committee therefore recommended that it be included.
Improved compliance with the Government Buying Standards, which include mandatory sustainability requirements for contracts, was shown with most contracts meeting the standard.
While the DfT has been found to have taken many positive steps relating to sustainability issues in the transport sector, there is still more work to be done.
However, with a government grappling with Brexit issues, and the resulting uncertainty on key policy areas such as renewable energy, air quality and the UK’s position under the Paris Agreement on climate change, the likelihood of achieving
more certainty for investors seems remote for the foreseeable future.
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