"THE environmental challenges facing humanity in the 21st
century are immense: the most urgent and pressing is climate
change" (Church and Earth 2009-2016, C of E, 2009).
The world has just passed the symbolic and ominous figure of 400
parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is
halfway between the 350ppm that is thought to be "safe", and the
450ppm that is widely regarded as a threshold for dangerous climate
change. This should set alarm bells ringing even louder, and
provoke action to prevent climate disruption wrecking the lives of
the world's most disadvantaged communities.
To put this figure in context, for the past few hundreds of
thousands of years, carbon-dioxide concentration has been going up
and down between about 180 and 280 ppm. For the period of human
civilisation, it has been remarkably stable, until the industrial
revolution, and especially the past 50 years, when it has been
rising. It is now 40 per cent higher than at any time in the past
few million years, and going up.
This is an extremely rapid rate of change for the planet to
adjust to. Changing the atmosphere at this rate inevitably causes
instability in the climate, and many more severe weather events.
Unless it is stabilised, this could do devastating damage to the
world in which our grandchildren will live.
WE ARE halfway between 2009 and 2016. These were the start and
end dates for the C of E's "seven-year plan on climate change and
the environment". It was published in one of its most exciting, and
yet probably least-well-known reports, Church and Earth
(available at: www.churchcare.co.uk/shrinking-the-footprint).
Commissioned by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard
Chartres, and overseen by a steering group drawn from inside and
outside the Church, the report complements the C of E Shrinking the
Footprint campaign, and provides a strategic vision for parishes,
dioceses, and church partnerships. It provides practical
recommendations, case studies of action that has already been
taken, and charts a way ahead.
NOW that we are halfway through the seven-year period, and
especially now that a fresh sense of urgency about climate action
is imperative, it is worth the Church's taking stock about how
things are going.
Church and Earth takes the urgency seriously, but does
not dwell on doom and fear. On the contrary, it celebrates the
projects that are under way in many dioceses, and documents
progress - for example, the Devon Christian Climate Change
Coalition in Exeter diocese, solar power in use in St James's,
Piccadilly, in London, and an "eco-church" in Addington. The report
makes a strong case for saying that "good ecology is not an
optional extra, but a matter of justice. It is therefore central to
what it means to be a Christian."
It lays out proposals for future action. It looks at buildings
and assets, partnerships with civic groups and other faiths, work
with schools and young people, lifestyles, pastoral and community
projects, media and advocacy, celebration and worship.
Shrinking the Footprint continues its vital work of measuring
the carbon footprint of the Church's total building stock, and
looks to further work covering water and biodiversity, transport,
waste, land, and food. Links are well established with various
environment agencies and Christian groups, such as A Rocha and
Operation Noah, as well as development agencies such as Christian
Ideas for a code for sustainable churches, tree-planting
projects, new action on waste and recycling, the perils of fuel
poverty, the greening of cathedrals and retreat houses are all
The Church will continue to monitor and influence the companies
in which it invests. In the light of recent news about "unburnable
fuel reserves", it has been suggested that the Church should work
by 2020 towards disinvestment from fossil-fuel extraction and
supply companies. The aim would be a portfolio that is
carbon-neutral, while offering maximal return for minimal
environmental and social impact.
A bishops' environment panel and a network of diocesan
environment officers are now in place, and a climate-justice Fund
has been established.
ALTHOUGH the environmental challenges facing humanity are
immense, the scale of the challenge demands that people across
civil society play a full part, not only in demanding action from
government and business, but also in living out the values and
lifestyle changes that will enable a sustainable world for all.
The report Church and Earth affirms that the Church and
its partners and allies have a vital contribution to make here.
"The service of Christians and others of faith and goodwill can
contribute positively to the resources and energy of human beings
around the world, to mitigate climate change, adapt to it,
safeguard the poor and vulnerable, and conserve life's richness for
the benefit of all."
The report ends with a note of hope, and trust in God's
commitment to the creation and to humanity, and by saying: "The
Church of England has pledged itself to playing its full part in
this great work before us all."
At this halfway stage in the seven-year plan, it would be good
for all of us to renew this pledge, at personal, parish, diocesan,
and national church level. The Shrinking the Footprint campaign is
encouraging parishes to conduct new audits of energy-saving
The Church needs to take more of a lead in monitoring its plan.
Diocesan synods and the General Synod could timetable stocktaking
debates. This agenda is hugely more important than many of the
subjects that occupy synodical time. The work that has been done so
far offers a rich set of projects and statements of intent on which
Dr David Atkinson is an Assistant Bishop in the diocese of