Background to the report

In June 2019, Parliament passed an amendment to the Climate Change Act 2008 committing the UK to achieving ‘net zero’ greenhouse gas emissions (emissions) by 2050. This means reducing emissions substantially from current levels, with residual emissions in 2050 being equal to or less than what is removed from the atmosphere by either the natural environment or carbon capture technologies, such as tree planting or engineered removals. The government estimates that emissions from public sector buildings account for around 2% of total UK emissions.

Jump to downloads

Since 2010-11, the government has also agreed targets with central government (government departments and their partner organisations) to reduce their emissions as part of the Greening Government Commitments (GGCs). The current targets are set by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through negotiation with individual departments to reduce their emissions by the end of 2024-25 compared with a 2017-18 baseline. Departments’ targets range from achieving a 10% reduction to a 43% reduction in direct emissions and a 27% to 69% reduction in overall emissions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has overall responsibility for the GGC framework. HM Treasury has responsibility for setting annual reporting requirements in central government.

Scope of the report

This report examines the extent to which the government measures and reports public sector emissions in line with its ambition for the public sector to be a leader in decarbonising its activities. It examines:

  • the landscape of public sector emissions measurement and reporting (Part One);
  • the completeness of current measurement and reporting requirements for public sector bodies and progress in improving the transparency of reporting across central government (Part Two); and
  • whether government and public sector organisations are using emissions data to inform future planning (Part Three).

Report conclusions

Central government departments have reported notable progress in reducing their direct emissions over the past decade. The GGCs have provided a broadly stable framework within which departments can measure and report progress against targets. HM Treasury’s Sustainability Reporting Guidance has begun to set expectations for what stakeholders, and Parliament, might expect to see in the annual reports of public bodies. However, there are inconsistencies in which bodies are and are not reporting within the GGC framework, patchy compliance with HM Treasury’s reporting guidance and a lack of clarity about what is expected of the rest of the public sector.

In part, the current inconsistencies mirror a lack of coherence in the oversight and support provided by the centre of government on the measurement and reporting of public sector emissions. All public sector bodies need to understand the likely costs of delivering their decarbonisation targets so that they can effectively prioritise action and investment. And with better, more consistent data, central government departments could improve cost estimation and inform priorities for reducing emissions. This will require active leadership from the centre of government to strengthen its management of the measurement and reporting regime.

“The government has an ambition for the public sector to lead by example during the transition to net zero, but the measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by public bodies is inconsistent.

“Public bodies face the challenge of navigating various greenhouse gas emissions reporting frameworks without a central source of government guidance. Government now needs to strengthen its leadership and establish a clear standard for the entire public sector to meet.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (10 Jun 2022)

Latest reports