Monday, October 29, 2007

Send all ministers on a sustainable development training camp

UK Energy Market Outlook - the document partially reviewed in my last blog - reveals the limitation of government thinking on energy and sustainable development.

It shares its limitation with many other government policy documents and implementations - the lack of strategic overview.

While it makes every effort to try to be strategic - looking at the price and availability of all the fuelstocks in the near and longer term, and fitting this in with selected quotes from the Commons Environment Committee, Energy White Paper, etc., to back up its arguments - by making only these selective quotes and omitting many other potential references it does not succeed in advancing the cause of truly sustainable development that is supposedly at the heart of government policy.

What sustainable government policy I hear you ask?

A cross-government 'greening Government' group of 'green ministers' was set up would you believe nine years ago with a "commitment to integrate sustainable development and environmental concerns into all that [Government] does".

It has the status of Cabinet level. Its shenanigans are, however, clouded in mystery.

On 1 February 2006 James Duddridge (MP Rochford & Southend East, Conservative) asked a simple question: "To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many times the Green Ministers' Group has met in the past 12 months."

Elliot Morley (then Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) replied: Following the general election in May 2005, the Cabinet Sub-Committee of Green Ministers (ENV(G)) was replaced by the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Sustainable Development in Government (EE(SD)) whose members are departmental Sustainable Development Ministers. It is established practice under exemption two of Part II of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information not to disclose information relating to the proceedings of Cabinet Committees.

That's strange, because apparently it still meets, as it was referred to only last week on Oct 18 by MP Norman Baker.

But it seems we are not allowed to know what it does or says.

Well whatever it's called, its mission is the same: "to improve the Government's contribution to sustainable development through the conduct of its business, including thorough consideration of departmental sustainable development action plans; and to report as necessary to the Cabinet Committee on Energy and the Environment."

That's all the sustainable-development web site says. It says it's to be updated shortly. That was on August 15 this year.

The 'sustainable development action plans' which every department was supposed to produce in 2005 are gathering dust.

I could go on. In a nutshell, the point is that to commit at the top level to sustainable development, you need to put on what the Low Carbon Kid calls 'sustainable development spectacles' so everything you see and do is filtered through this way of seeing, which is of necessity holistic - all-encompassing.

Every single act of government must filter through this lens to avoid inadvertently countering the overall aim.

Ministers can't do this without special training. Civil servants - who have been in post for years, or who have legal Oxbridge backgrounds - can't be expected to do it either.

The Sustainable Development Commission, the watchdog, was set up to keep an eye on all this, but the Government just ignores it when it wants to. As it does the committee of MPs set up to do the same thing on the environment, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

That's why the Low Carbon Kid supports the conclusion in today's report from the EAC that "A powerful new body must be established to drive climate change policy after a decade of failure by the government".

And it calls for "a cross-departmental climate change minister who could attend Cabinet meetings". Perhaps this person could whip the so-called Green Ministers.

It agrees that "the frameworks in government for dealing with climate change are confused and do not promote effective action on reducing emissions".

Quite so. We are driving backwards. The Low Carbon Kid says - send all cabinet ministers on a sustainable development training camp over the holidays.

They'd learn all about carbon footprinting, new economics, renewable energy, organic growing, sustainable communities, education for change, and much more. And have a whole lot of fun singing 'This land is our land' round the camp fire. The Low Carbon Kid can just picture it.

He knows a lot of people who'd love to teach them a thing or five hundred.

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