In a report published last week, the environmental audit committee noted that while there is "an impressive range" of policy documents and guidance on sustainable development, few resources are devoted to meeting the objectives they set out.
The committee emphasised that departments have a "crucial role to play" if the UK is to move towards a sustainable future. "Yet we found that departments have few staff devoted to this agenda, have little in the way of objectives and are still unable to report adequately on operational performance aspects," it notes.
The MPs condemned as "deplorable" the lack of weight placed on sustainable development in the policies of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Office for National Statistics. This contrasts with the more positive approach of the former DTLR and the Department for Education and Skills.
The MPs found it disappointing that so few departments produce their own environmental reports. They recommend making it a "formal requirement" for departments to report separately on their environmental impacts and to require associated agencies to do likewise.
A recent framework for sustainable development on government land (Planning, 8 August, p4) was welcomed by the committee as evidence of progress towards a cross-governmental approach to target setting and monitoring. But it expressed concern about slow implementation.
Mark Southgate, head of planning at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said that devoting extra resources to sustainability across government is necessary to signal the change in policy. But he added that there are some "encouraging signs of changes in attitude emerging".
Greening Government 2003 can be viewed via www.planning.haynet.com.