ONS confirms plans to publish emissions data alongside GDP statistics

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has confirmed it will start publishing carbon emissions statistics alongside quarterly GDP figures, which has been warmly welcomed by MPs’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) .

The ONS commitment follows an EAC recommendation that GDP growth figures should be presented alongside statistics on environmental impacts, to provide policymakers and business decision-makers with more evidence. of how economic and environmental issues are linked. The recent EAC survey, titled Aligning UK economic goals with environmental sustainabilityargued that the narrow scope of GDP measures does not provide enough information about other factors that influence prosperity and broader well-being, such as environmental statistics and social capital data.

In response to the EAC report, the ONS confirmed that it would now incorporate emissions data into its influential GDP updates.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said the decision to put GDP alongside environmental data was the latest step in the agency’s efforts to contextualise and broaden the public’s understanding of economic activity. from the United Kingdom.

“For a few years, we have been offering statistics complementary to our economic indicators that reflect changes in our environment,” he said. “Last month, we continued to release climate change information for the first time alongside our first quarterly GDP estimate, outlining options for measuring quarterly emissions and committing to developing plans to develop measures. “beyond GDP” inclusive income.

“These measures, with further development, will ultimately enable us to provide an assessment of the environmental impact of changes in economic activity, which we will seek to include in our quarterly publications as they become available.”

EAC Chairman MP Philip Dunne has written to the National Statistician to welcome the development and “very positive engagement” of the ONS with its recommendations.

“A sea change is needed from the economy of the past to an economy fit for our net zero future: and how we report GDP is part of that journey,” he said. “Net zero Britain will need policy across the board to align with our environmental goals. But achieving net zero cannot come at the expense of economic prosperity, and vice versa.

“By accepting our committee’s recommendation to publish emissions statistics alongside GDP, the Office for National Statistics will provide policymakers and commentators with the tools to keep net zero on track while keeping a clear focus. on economic progress.

The EAC also today published a response from Helen Whately, Secretary of the Exchequer to the Treasury, to a letter the EAC sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in which she “again pleaded” for a ” formal “net zero test” for all government policy. the decisions.

In response, Whately argued that climate change was already a major consideration in government decision-making. “I take note of the committee’s recent recommendation that the government include a Net Zero test in future tax events to assess the impacts of tax and spending decisions,” she said. “As outlined in the 2021 government response to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government has gone further than ever to put climate at the heart of decision-making.

“This includes budget decision-making, as evidenced by the existing processes in place to assess options for government projects and programs and during the recent spending review (SR21). The Green Paper, which Her Majesty’s Treasury improves continuously based on emerging evidence and best practices, requires departments to assess the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions impacts of potential programs during cost-benefit analysis.

Whately said the government recognizes that GDP has limitations as a measure and “should not be seen as an overall measure of well-being”. Underlining his support for the recommendations of Sir Charles Bean’s 2016 review of economic statistics – who urged the ONS to become more “intellectually curious” about how it assesses economic performance – the minister said the government had provided additional funding to the ONS to improve estimates of natural capital. and their relevance for policy-making.

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