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20 Jan 2012 11:01:59

Government must lead by example in run-up to Rio+20

The Tory-led coalition’s approach to mainstreaming sustainable development (SD) is failing to put the nation on a more sustainable footing, according to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

Challenges including climate change, population growth, resource depletion, poverty and ecological decline mean that without SD right at the heart of government decision making, prospects for current and future generations, and for the environment, could be bleak.

In its new report, ‘Mainstreaming Sustainable Development’, CIWEM finds that the architecture put in place to mainstream SD across all government departments, in the wake of the demise of the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) in March 2011, is insufficient to achieve the government’s stated aims. A clear lack of Ministerial buy-in to the initiative, as well as insufficient resources within Defra, will undermine progress. CIWEM has assessed a range of policy areas against sustainable development principles and has found the government’s performance disappointing.

CIWEM believes that for the process to be successful, key departments such as the Treasury and Business Innovation and Skills must back the drive to prioritise SD and deliver it. Ownership should sit within the Cabinet Office, with visible Ministerial support and commitment. There should be facilitation from Defra and independent scrutiny of the mainstreaming process.

Whilst the underlying political tone remains focused on budget deficit reduction, above all other considerations, it is difficult to see how SD - which requires a balanced consideration of economic, social and environmental needs - can become a mainstream philosophy despite clear evidence that sustainability measures regularly deliver clear economic benefits for all.

CIWEM Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says:

“The UK remains a leading player, internationally, with regard to climate change. However, it is highly debatable whether, in the lead-up to the Rio+20 summit in the summer, it can claim to be leading and delivering on sustainability. Mainstreaming sustainable development across government is a laudable aim and a grand ambition. But such ambition requires visible leadership from the most influential players in government and a commitment to investment in skills, innovation and resources. Defra should, of course, be at the heart of this process, but it is probably lacking in influence and resources. Meantime powerful departments like the Treasury, Business and the Cabinet Office continue to regard sustainable development as a fringe concern that will only be taken seriously once they’ve finished getting-on-with growing the economy at any cost.”

For more information contact Rosanna Geary, CIWEM policy administrator.

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