Government-funded body is not doing enough to cut the carbon footprint of UK businesses, say MPs

The government-funded body charged with reducing the carbon footprint of UK businesses ’can surely do a lot better’, according to a report from an oversight committee of MPs.

The Carbon Trust was set up by the UK government in 2001 to persuade businesses and public sector organisations to cut their carbon emissions. 

An audit this week revealed that the trust is set to meet its 2010 target to cut annual emissions by 4.4 million tonnes, compared to 1990 levels. But the MP chairing the committee behind the report described the achievement as ’pretty small beer’ when compared to the government’s own target to cut overall carbon dioxide emissions by 118 million tonnes a year on the same timescale.

Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts Edward Leigh added that the Carbon Trust ’can surely do a lot better, especially given soaring fuel prices and the consequent public desire to cut energy use.’ In particular, Leigh highlighted the Trust’s limited success in convincing small businesses of the economic benefits of improving energy efficiency.

But Tom Delay, Chief Executive of the Carbon Trust, defended the Trust’s achievements. ’Far from being "small beer", by 2010 our work with business will, every year, be saving more than the entire current carbon emissions of Glasgow. In addition, we calculate our innovations, investments and enterprises activities could lead to further significant annual savings of between 13.7 and 20.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year by 2050.’

At a Committee of Public Accounts hearing on the Trust’s performance in December 2007, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) representative Helen Ghoshalso defended the Carbon Trust’s efforts to cut emissions. Ghosh pointed out that the Carbon Trust’s 4.4 million tonne goal represented 14 per cent of the government’s overall 2010 target for annual carbon emissions reductions by businesses. ’Therefore we do think it is very good value for money,’ she said. In 2006-7, Defra provided ?77.1 million of the Trust’s ?103.2 million public funding, the balance coming from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Berr). 

The Committee of Public Accounts report makes a series of recommendations to boost the Carbon Trust’s performance - including strengthening evidence to better convince small businesses of the economic case for improving energy efficiency, and raising the profile of its Energy Efficiency Accreditation Scheme. Delay agrees that the report makes ’some valuable recommendations’, and says the Trust is already acting to dramatically expand its Energy Efficiency Accreditation Scheme, with a major launch planned for June. ’We will actively examine the other recommendations as part of our ongoing commitment to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy,’ he adds.

James Mitchell Crow