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Quarterly stocktake on emissions, published with GDP figures, necessary to measure progress towards net zero

6 April 2022

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) calls for estimates of greenhouse gas emissions to be published alongside GDP figures to indicate properly whether economic growth and slashing emissions can be achieved together.

In letters to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the National Statistician, the EAC acknowledges that GDP is useful in offering a clear headline figure. Its narrow scope, however, fails to acknowledge other indicators such as environmental statistics and social capital, and MPs therefore argue that it is not a sufficient metric to use to assess prosperity and societal wellbeing.

While the UK has had some success in decoupling carbon dioxide emissions from GDP growth over the last three decades, the EAC warns that much more must be done for the UK to meet future carbon budgets on the path to net zero. The eminent Cambridge economist Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, who recently reviewed the issue for the Treasury, has warned that because GDP does not currently account for the deprecation of natural assets, it encourages the pursuit of “unsustainable economic growth and development”.

To meet climate and nature goals, policy decisions on tax, spending, project appraisal and financial regulation must all be made through a net zero and environmental sustainability lens. Including information on environmental sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions with the quarterly release of GDP figures will enable policymakers, commentators and the media to make more accurate judgements on the state of the economy, the environment and wider society.

Chair's comment

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“GDP has been a useful indicator for decades, but it can play a more useful role in the next 30 years alongside greener metrics as the UK strives to meet net zero. Publishing estimates of environmental performance and greenhouse gas emissions alongside the quarterly release of GDP figures will enable the public to see whether we are achieving economic growth while slashing emissions and improving environmental performance. A new metric could offer a helpful stocktake to highlight whether the UK’s greening efforts are working, or whether they are merely greenwashing.

“Ministers assure this Committee and others at regular intervals that the whole of Government is committed to net zero. We are concerned at the significant and worrying gap between ambition and implementation on climate polices. The UK is currently falling behind in meeting its future carbon budgets: we must pull out all the stops to ensure that economic policy is not viewed in isolation from climate and environment policy.”

Further information

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