Friends of the Earth report states that UK coalition government is failing to deliver its key environmental pledges

May 7th, 2011 by Friends of the Earth

The likelihood of the coalition Government living up to its ‘greenest Government ever’ pledge is “vanishingly remote” without a huge improvement in its performance, former Sustainable Development Commission chairman Jonathon Porritt warns in a Friends of the Earth-commissioned report.

(click the report cover to download the report to your computer)

Following the scrapping of the Sustainable Development Commission earlier this year there is now no formal scrutiny of the Government’s green record – a void Friends of the Earth aims to help fill with this report.

At the request of the green campaigning charity, Jonathon Porritt has reviewed the Government’s performance over the last year and analysed how well it matched up to green promises made in both opposition and in power.

The report identifies numerous examples of the Government’s failure to champion green issues.

These include:

  • The Treasury’s refusal to let the Green Investment Bank borrow funds until at least 2015, thus reducing its ability to drive investment in a low carbon economy. The move was an embarrassment to Chris Huhne who originally stated that: “Ducks quack, and banks borrow as well as lend.”
  • Abandoning plans to reform aviation duty so airlines would pay a per plane duty, rather than a per person tax. Not only did the Chancellor fail to reform the tax in the Budget, he also scrapped the planned rise in Air Passenger Duty;
  • Proposing to water down the feed-in tariff scheme, which provides financial incentives to homes, businesses and communities to invest in small and medium size green electricity schemes. These changes will have serious consequences for the UK’s green energy sector with investors likely to pull out of schemes in fear of future uncertainties.

However, the report does welcomes a number of green initiatives by the Coalition Government. These include: Scrapping plans to expand airports in the south east of England, agreeing to roll out smart meters to 30 million homes from 2014 and announcing the world’s first Renewable Heat Incentive.

The report concludes:

  • The Government is failing to deliver on most of its key green pledges and many policies have been delayed, watered down or even abandoned. The report examined 77 green policies – and found little or no progress in 58 of them.
  • There is little evidence of the Prime Minister using his personal political capital make an impact on the Government’s overall sustainability performance.
  • The Lib Dems have failed to promote their green agenda with sufficient rigour inside the coalition, and their backbenchers have failed to hold their own ministers to account.
  • Government promises to create tens of thousands of new green jobs are evaporating. George Osborne promised: “If I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe” – but the opposite has proved to be the case.

It is clear the ‘growth at all costs’ lobby has won out over the advocates of sustainable economic development. There are also growing fears that Treasury officials are pressurising Ministers to reject new carbon reduction targets recommended by the Government’s official advisor, the Committee on Climate Change.

  • It is impossible for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to deliver comprehensive, integrated plans to address climate change strategically when the rest of Whitehall is fundamentally disengaged – and the Treasury is hostile. And Government pledges to enhance and protect our natural environment are being completely undermined by a considerably weakened Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [DEFRA], which gets trampled on by other departments and receives little support from the Cabinet Office or Prime Minister.
  • The Big Society appears to be driven by the ideological priority to shrink the size of the state – rather than delivering substantial improvements in people’s local environment and quality of life.

Jonathon Porritt said “the Prime Minister’s own credibility is at stake here – as is that of the Liberal Democrats who have clearly failed to use their influence inside the Coalition to ensure a better performance on the environment and sustainable development.

Jonathan Porritt in Guernsey in March 2008 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

“It’s certainly not too late, but things are going to have to change dramatically to make up lost ground.”

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said “confidence in David Cameron’s boast to run the ‘greenest government ever’ is fading fast.

“Rather than creating a green and safe future, his Government has steadily dismantled pledges and policies that would help him achieve it.

“David Cameron could be building a prosperous low-carbon economy out of the rubble of the old, creating new jobs and industries for recession-hit Britain – but green development is continually being sacrificed in favour of growth at any cost.

“Unless the Prime Minister starts to show real political courage and leadership on the environment his green ambitions will simply be more hot air.”


Jonathon Porritt is one of the UK’s most eminent environmentalists.  He was a former executive director of Friends of the Earth. He co-founded Forum for the Future in 1996, and was Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) between 2000 and 2009. The SDC was scrapped earlier this year.



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