Defra has had to rectify a massive overestimation of the amount of CO² that would be saved by the introduction of a plastics bag levy.
Giving evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) in December, waste minister Dan Rogerson said the upcoming charge would decrease plastics bags usage by 60%, leading to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions of around 5 million to 8 million tonnes of CO² – equivalent to 1.7 million to 2.7 million cars off the road.
But in a letter later submitted to the EAC, Defra revised down the figure from the millions to the thousands.
“We could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 97,000 -130,000 tonnes of CO², which is equivalent to permanently taking 32,000 – 43,000 cars off the road,” said the department.
The EAC chair, Labour MP Joan Walley, described the incident as “symptomatic” of the struggle of the department to cope with cuts.
“Such a glaring mistake seems symptomatic of a department struggling to keep its head above water,” she said.
“Defra’s remit is wide – from protecting the country from flooding to looking after our food, farming, woods and wildlife – and since 2010 it has had to do all this with a lot less money. The big cuts at Defra are prompting concerns that it now lacks the capacity to implement policies successfully or handle emergencies.”
She added: “It has become something of a cliché that government ministers don’t know the price of milk, but you might expect a department responsible for the environment to have done its sums properly on the carbon impact of a new policy to charge for plastic bags.”