Uncertainty that the ambition for a net zero public sector will be met, according to Auditor General

Uncertainty that the ambition for a net zero public sector will be met, according to Auditor General
14 July 2022
Pollution smoke

Report calls for stronger public sector leadership on reducing carbon emissions in Wales

Public bodies need to do more in their drive to decarbonise, according to a report published today by the Auditor General for Wales.

Our report shows the public sector’s commitment to carbon reduction and the considerable activity that is taking place to reduce carbon emissions. However, public bodies need to increase their pace of activity amid clear uncertainty about whether they will achieve the collective ambition to have net zero carbon emissions by 2030. There are real barriers that public bodies need to address, and decarbonisation needs to be put at the heart of their day-to-day activities.

The Auditor General has committed to an ongoing programme of work on climate change. The report ‘Public Sector Readiness for Net Zero Carbon by 2030’ is our first piece of work looking at decarbonisation in 48 larger public sector bodies.

In the report, the Auditor General makes the following five calls for action from public bodies:

  • Strengthen your leadership and demonstrate your collective responsibility through effective collaboration;
  • Clarify your strategic direction and increase your pace of implementation;
  • Get to grips with the finances you need;
  • Know your skills gaps and increase your capacity; and
  • Improve data quality and monitoring to support your decision making.

Our review found that public bodies are at very different stages in developing their decarbonisation action plans. Over a third of organisations were still in the initial stages of developing a decarbonisation plan at the time of our call for evidence.

Our review found that only two of the bodies that responded to our call for evidence felt that they had fully assessed the financial implications of meeting the 2030 ambition. Public bodies were very clear that significant investment is going to be needed. While the Welsh Government has provided some additional financial support, public bodies will have to think about how they can use existing funds in different ways and share costs with others.

Our review also found widespread capacity issues and skills gaps. Public bodies told us their resources are stretched in delivering core services and they do not necessarily have the specialist skills to address the complex nature of decarbonisation. Public bodies need to take opportunities to share the knowledge, expertise and capacity that exists within the public sector as well as the private and third sectors. Collaboration is needed now more than ever.

Data is power when it comes to decarbonisation. The Auditor General calls on public bodies to rapidly improve their understanding of their carbon emissions as our review found that data issues are a major barrier to having a shared understanding of the problem.

There’s no doubt that public bodies are taking climate change seriously, but they simply need to do more. Given the level of uncertainty about whether the collective 2030 ambition will be met, now is the time for bold leadership. Organisations need to be innovative, share experiences of their successes and failures and they need to place decarbonisation at the heart of everything they do.

Climate change is already affecting us in Wales, and we will need to adapt to a changing climate at the same time as reducing our carbon emissions. I will continue to ‘shine a light’ on the public sector response to climate change in further pieces of work. One example is my work on flood risk management to be published in the Autumn.

Auditor General, Adrian Crompton
Public Sector Readiness for Net Zero Carbon by 2030