Britain's green shame

Jonathon Porritt steps down from Blair's sustainability commission with UK still second-worst greenhouse gas emitter in Europe


When it comes to environmental sustainability, the prognosis is grim: Britain is "winning battles, but still losing the war".

The UK is failing to hit a raft of key targets on sustainable living, according to a new report to be published this week. In its critical analysis, released on Wednesday, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) warns that progress on a number of green targets has been "undermined by stasis or even reversion". Jonathon Porritt, outgoing SDC chair and one-time "green guru" to Tony Blair, claims sustainability plays second fiddle to the drive for consumption-driven economic growth. "The thing that stands out is the very limited progress we've made on reducing inequity in our society... it's a startling indictment of this Government that more people will be living in fuel poverty at the time of next election than were living in fuel poverty in 1997," he said.

The "review of progress on sustainable development" details how the "Securing the Future" strategy launched by Tony Blair in 2005 has failed in a number of areas. It says Britain remains the EU's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and is not on track to meet its target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010.

Britain remains well behind most European countries on supplying renewable energy, which accounts for less than 2 per cent of overall energy consumption, according to the report, which also predicts the proportion of energy produced by renewables in 2020 will be just 5 per cent – far short of the EU target of 20 per cent. And while recycling is on the increase, there is a long way to go to meet the 40 per cent target by 2010, with the UK heavily reliant on landfill, says the report.

Mr Porritt, who steps down next month, admitted: "I feel some disappointment inevitably because I would have wanted to see faster progress," and cites a new energy White Paper as something "they could, and should, have done four or five years ago".

The embarrassing report comes just days after Gordon Brown's proposals for a £60bn international fund to help poorer countries deal with climate change were announced. The Prime Minister is also arguing for aviation and maritime emissions to be included in global climate-change talks taking place in Copenhagen in December.

The Government's record on sustainability also came under attack from politicians and pressure groups last night. Greg Clark, Tory spokesman on energy and climate change, said: "This is a time when we need action rather than spin."

And Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth said of the Government: "They've produced strategies and had press conferences but there hasn't been conviction... that sustainable development is of critical importance."

In a statement, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We're grateful to the SDC for the work they've put into this report. We look forward to its publication... and we will consider its content carefully."

Greenhouse gas emissions

Government target

Twenty per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2010, and an 80 per cent reduction by 2050.

What the report says

Britain remains the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe. In 2007, CO2 emissions were 8.5 per cent below 1990 levels.


Britain is not on track to meet its target on emissions. An apparent decrease becomes a significant increase once emissions embedded in trade and travel are taken into account.

Energy production

Government target

Britain to supply 10 per cent renewable energy by 2010. Twenty per cent of EU energy production from renewables by 2020.

What the report says

In 2007, the percentage of final energy consumption from renewable sources was less than 2 per cent. Projections suggest that this will increase to 5 per cent by 2020.


Britain is one of the poorest performers in Europe in supplying energy from renewables and is not on track to meet national and EU targets.

Existing homes

Government target

To eliminate fuel poverty in all households by 2016.

What the report says

Cavity wall insulation is one of the most cost-effective measures to reduce carbon, yet 8.5 million UK households do not have this. In 2006, there were approximately 3.5 million UK households (14 per cent) in fuel poverty, an increase of 1 million since 2005. Some 2.75 million of these were classed as 'vulnerable' households.


Despite some improvements, significant energy efficiency improvements are required to meet climate-change targets.

Healthy and safe mobility

Government target

To encourage cycling and walking and reduce dependence on cars.

Halve the number of children killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads by 2010.

What the report says

Between 1986 and 2003, the average number of trips by foot fell by 30 per cent. There has been a 52 per cent fall in children killed or seriously injured on roads.


Road traffic volume has risen by 20 per cent since 1990, and the frequency of car journeys in the UK outranks walking, cycling and public transport.


Government target

Halt increase in childhood obesity in under-11s by 2010.

Reduce adult smoking rates to 21 per cent.

Reduce health inequalities by 10 per cent by 2010.

What the report says

Almost 40 per cent of the population is expected to be obese by 2020.

Average smoking rates have fallen to 22 per cent.

In Scotland, life expectancy in deprived areas is around 10 years lower than the general population.


Britain has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the EU.

We are not on target to meet the 2010 goal of reducing inequalities.

Sustainable communities

Government target

Eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Reduce the proportion of children living in workless households by 5 per cent between 2005 and 2008.

What the report says

Between 1997 and 2007 the number of children in workless households decreased from 19 to 16 per cent. One in five children still live in poverty.


Some progress has been made on reducing income inequalities, but the gap between the richest and poorest is increasing. The UK is not on track to meet its child poverty target.

Local economies

Government target

Job and business creation with benefits for the community, and town centres that are economically viable and attractive.

Eighty per cent overall employment rate.

What the report says

There are more than 55,000 social enterprises in Britain generating more than £27bn in turnover. Over the past decade Britain has had high rates of employment but this fell to 74 per cent in December 2008.


The economic downturn has caused increases in unemployment. Unemployment is not distributed evenly across the UK, and basic and intermediate skills need improving.

Domestic waste

Government target

Reduce household residual waste by 29 per cent in 2010.

Recycle or compost 40 per cent of household waste by 2010.

What the report says

In England, total household waste fell by 2 per cent between 2006/07 and 2007/08. The national household recycling rate has reached 34.5 per cent but is short of the 40 per cent 2010 target. The UK is also still heavily reliant on landfill.


Households are recycling more of their waste, but most of that which is not recycled still goes to landfill. A third of the food we buy goes to waste.


Government target

To halt biodiversity loss by 2010. To deliver 95 per cent of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) into 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition by 2010.

What the report says

Eighty per cent of SSSIs are in 'favourable' or 'recovering' condition. Sustainable development issues, including biodiversity, risk being sidelined by Rural Development Agencies, due to an overriding focus on economic growth.


Britain is not on target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Protected area arrangements appear to be working but the lack of cross-government action means non-protected areas are particularly vulnerable.

Air quality

Government target

The EU Air Quality Directive sets standards for major pollutants, including levels of particulates, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone.

What the report says

Overall emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates and sulphur dioxide have been steadily decreasing since 1990. Despite this, air pollution in 2005 was estimated to reduce life expectancy by seven to eight months and cost up to £20.2bn per annum.


Despite decreases in overall emissions of air pollutants, 20 cities fail to meet EU legislation for particulates, and the UK is at risk of missing targets for nitrogen dioxide levels.

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