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Government and sustainable development

The UK government has made it clear that it wants the public sector to be a leading exponent of sustainable development. So government departments, their agencies and non-departmental public bodies (including CABE), should lead by example in promoting and delivering sustainable development through policy as well as practice.

 The Climate Change Act has committed the government to reducing UK carbon emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. Fulfilling this ambition is a daunting task and requires behavoural and attitudinal changes which are far reaching. Tackling the carbon emissions of our towns and cities is integral to UK reaching this figure.

The built environment accounts for around 50% of all the UK's carbon emissions therefore we believe the global environmental crisis we face is also a planning and design crisis. When buildings, places and infrastructure are properly designed, they can support low carbon and sustainable lifestyles. As a result those who are responsible for planning, designing, constructing and managing urban environments have a crucial role to play.

The UK government has made it clear that it wants the public sector to be a leading exponent of sustainable development. So government departments, their agencies and non-departmental public bodies (including CABE), should lead by example in promoting and delivering sustainable development through policy as well as practice.

As the government's advisor on architecture, urban design and public space, CABE is working with departments in partnership with the government's sustainability watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC).

Our Sustainable Places website offers help for people in local authorities working to create better places.
It gives expert advice on planning, designing and managing a sustainable place. It cuts through the complexity with clear priorities for action and shows which places are getting it right.

The need for deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions is urgent: to stabilise concentrations in the atmosphere at their present level, we have to reduce emissions by 60-80 per cent by 2050. This can be done only if government and the public sector lead the way. Since December 2006, each government department has been required to produce a sustainable development action plan and report back on progress to the SDC. The SDC also assesses the sustainability of government departments against the targets of the framework for sustainable development on the government estate.

Sustainable procurement

The Stern review warned that only significant investment in mitigating and adapting to climate change could avert higher social, environmental and financial costs in the future. Given that the public sector spends over £150 billion on procurement each year, and the government estate is responsible for around £13 billion of this, a shift in thinking about costs and values is required. Public sector expenditure should be thought of in terms of long-term whole life costs and values, stimulating the market for more sustainable goods and services and creating opportunities to achieve economies of scale.

The UK government sustainable procurement action plan will be crucial to achieving the government's operations targets to ensure that supply chains and public services will be increasingly low-carbon, low-waste and water efficient, respect biodiversity and deliver wider sustainable development goals. More specifically, sustainable procurement and operations are synonymous with good value for money and efficiency, and are part of building a modern and resource efficient public sector.

Sustainable public buildings and estate management

The government estate covers approximately 0.5 million hectares and emits over 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year. It has an important new target to go carbon neutral by 2012, through a combination of reducing carbon emissions, using renewable energy and offsetting the remaining balance of emissions. Those emissions that cannot be eliminated could be offset either through carbon reduction projects overseas or by paying into a fund to reinvest in energy efficiency on the government estate.

However, a recent National Audit Office report on sustainable construction and refurbishment on the government estate says that the majority of government departments and agencies are failing to meet targets to make their new buildings and major refurbishments sustainable.