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Shows Promise, But Must Try Harder

13 April 2004


A report published today (Tuesday 13 April 2004) by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) welcomes Government efforts to protect the environment, reduce unemployment, alleviate poverty, increase life expectancy and improve education, but appeals for fundamental policy shifts to improve overall quality of life and tackle issues like inequality, climate change, traffic, waste and obesity.

Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder is the Sustainable Development Commission's review of the Government's progress over the past five years towards the creation of a sustainable society. While praising some areas of policy and performance, the report questions the Government's own assessment of its successes, and challenges its fundamental belief that economic growth should be the driving force behind all policy decisions.

SDC Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: 'In comparison to most governments around the world, the UK Government is doing a lot. And there's clearly genuine intent to do more. But this is still not a brilliant picture. Far more effort needs to be made to differentiate between 'smart growth' (that generates wealth and social benefits without damaging the environment) and today's wholly unsustainable growth that inevitably ends up damaging people's real quality of life. We must see a more determined effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a move away from consumption as the sole route to wellbeing, and new policies that lead to healthier environments and lifestyles for all.'

Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder- goes on to call for the Government to set more ambitious targets and adopt a more urgent and uniform approach to reaching them. It also appraises the performance of individual Government departments, highlighting the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI), but calling on the Treasury and many other Government Departments to ramp up their efforts to bring sustainable development to the forefront of policy-making.

To download a copy of Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder, visit www.sd-commission.gov.uk (available from 13 April 2004).

Editors notes:
SDC's assessment of Government performance (adapted from Shows Promise: But Must Try (Harder) against the Government's own Headline Indicators:

Economic growthPoorGovernment doing well on conventional GDP measures;but no effort made to move beyond total dependence on GDP. Eco-taxation strategy seems to have got badly
bogged down.
InvestmentPoorInvestment is low and there is growing evidence of a crumbling infrastructure which could have severe impacts on our future quality of life.
EmploymentDisappointingMore women are in employment, and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are getting a fairer share of jobs. But we are working longer hours, there are still big gender wage-gaps, and we have no idea how fulfilled people are with their jobs.
Government policies have significantly reduced some kinds of poverty, but the UK still remains amongst the worst of developed countries on several measures.
DfES's new 'Action Plan' is already making a difference, but more needs to be done on the ground (in terms of better school design and so on).
HealthDisappointingLife expectancy continues to rise, but not among poorer communities. Obesity is becoming increasingly alarming. Still no real connection between public health and sustainable development.
HousingDisappointingFewer people living in low-quality housing, but rising house prices exclude many, and progress towards improving energy efficiency is very slow. Sustainable Communities Plan could provide the breakthrough.
CrimePoorVehicle crime and burglary are down, but robbery and violent crime are on the increase.
Greenhouse gas emissionsDisappointingRoad transport emissions are increasing, and projected
increases in air travel will cancel out reductions in other areas. The Government will not meet its own target for carbon emissions by 2010, which it says is needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
Air qualityGoodAir quality is improving in most areas.
Road trafficDreadfulBritain has the ost congested roads in Europe, and we spend more time commuting than any other European
nation. The Government's response seems to be to alter targets rather than change policies to meet previous targets.
River water
GoodThere have been significant improvements, though massive housing development will increase the risk of flood and summer droughts.
WildlifeShows promiseDecline of woodland and farmland birds has levelled off, though climate change is likely to cause major losses of biodiversity.
Land useShows promiseMore new homes have been built on developed land, but
too many greenfield sites are still being built on.
WasteDreadfulMunicipal waste is rising faster than GDP and faster than in most other European countries. Recycling rates are rising, but are still among the lowest in Europe.

- In 1999, the UK Government published a sustainable development strategy for the UK: A Better Quality of Life. The Government's recent annual report on sustainable development, Achieving a Better Quality of Life, presents a review of progress since 1999.

- Shows Promise: But Must Try Harder is the Sustainable Development Commission's review of the Government's performance on sustainable development over the past five years. This review is based on an independent analysis of the Government's own headline indicators, by sustainability consultants Levett-Therivel (also being published on 14 April 2004), and the views of sustainability practitioners expressed in a workshop run by the Sustainable Development Commission in March 2004.

- The Sustainable Development Commission is the independent government advisor on sustainable development, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. The Commission's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and
society, and reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all

- Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

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