Blair Government Earns Mixed Grades for Sustainability

LONDON, UK, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - Despite making more effort than most other governments to achieve sustainable development, the British government is still not doing nearly enough, according to an official advisory body.

In a review marking five years since Britain adopted a sustainability strategy the Sustainable Development Commission called on Tuesday for more efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and a shift in emphasis from purely economic to "smart" growth compatible with environmental and social goals, as well as a move away from "consumption as the sole route to wellbeing."


Jonathan Porritt is a director and founder of Forum for the Future, and the UK government's key advisor on sustainable development. (Photo courtesy Ashden Directory)
Commission Chairman Jonathon Porritt said, “In comparison to most governments around the world, the UK government is doing a lot. And there’s clearly genuine intent to do more. But this is still not a brilliant picture. Far more effort needs to be made to differentiate between “smart growth” - that generates wealth and social benefits without damaging the environment - and today’s wholly unsustainable growth that inevitably ends up damaging people’s real quality of life."

"Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder" praises some areas of policy and performance, but the report questions the government’s own assessment of its successes, and challenges its fundamental belief that economic growth should be the driving force behind all policy decisions.

The report calls British control of greenhouse gas emissions "disappointing." Road transport emissions are increasing, and projected increases in air travel will cancel out reductions in other areas. The report warns that the government will not meet its own target for carbon emissions by 2010, which it says is needed to avert catastrophic climate change.

On the other hand, air quality is good and getting better, the commission said.

Road traffic is termed "dreadful."


Heavy traffic plagues British roads. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
"Britain has the most congested roads in Europe, and we spend more time commuting than any other European nation," the report says. The government’s response seems to be to alter targets rather than change policies to meet previous targets.

There have been significant improvements in the quality of river water, though massive housing development will increase the risk of flood and summer droughts.

Wildlife recovery "shows promise" as the cecline of woodland and farmland birds has levelled off, though climate change is likely to cause major losses of biodiversity.

Land use too "shows promise." More new homes have been built on developed land, but too many greenfield sites are still being built on, the report says.

The government also got a rating of "dreadful" on waste management. Municipal waste is rising faster than GDP and faster than in most other European countries. Recycling rates are rising, but are still among the lowest in Europe, says the report.

"We must see a more determined effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a move away from consumption as the sole route to wellbeing, and new policies that lead to healthier environments and lifestyles for all,” Porrit said.