Government claims to have cut its carbon emissions are based on rearranging balance sheets, an environmental committee has said.

The Ministry of Defence claimed a big cut in emissions after it sold off defence agency QinetiQ, but the emissions were in fact just moved off the balance sheet to the private sector.

The government has now stopped claiming it as an emissions cut, but the Environmental Audit Committee has warned it not to make similar claims in the future.

Even without the QinetiQ emissions, the government’s attempts to cut its emissions are considered lamentable by the committee and environmentalists alike.

Tim Yeo, chairman of the committee, said: “The degree of confusion within government as to how to make its offices carbon neutral by 2012, how much this will cost, and even how it will be defined and what it will measure, is wholly unsatisfactory.

“Until the government shows that it is living up to its commitments it will find it hard to maintain the moral authority to influence the rest of us.”

Current government targets aim to reduce emissions from government offices by 12.5 per cent of 1999-2000 levels within the next three years, and to be carbon neutral by 2012.

But figures for 2006-07 show a reduction of only four per cent, lagging well behind the trajectory required to satisfy their targets.

The committee concludes government attempts to improve their performance are “extremely poor”.

Not only that, but the government is placing too much emphasis on offsetting their emissions, rather than actually reducing them. MPs on the committee called for a cap on the level of offsetting and for the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to publish details of the amount of offsetting the government intended to use for the year ahead.

Central government offices produce about 2.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year – about 0.4 per cent of the UK total. They also contribute 309,000 tonnes of waste.