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SYNOD: Climate change: the fight is on

21 February 2014

The environment


"It is really urgent": Canon Giles Goddard, diocese of Southwark

"It is really urgent": Canon Giles Goddard, diocese of Southwark

THE General Synod voted to call on the national investing bodies to ensure that their investment policy was aligned with the Church's Shrinking the Footprint campaign, and to establish a working group on the environment.

Moving the motion on behalf of the Southwark diocesan synod, Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark), said: "The issue of climate change is real, and it is happening. The average temperature of the surface of the planet has increased by 0.89 degrees in the last century." The issue had dropped down the political agenda since the failure of the Copenhagen talks in 2009, he said. "It almost feels as though there's been a collective shrug: 'We can't do anything about it, can we?'"

Despite the sceptics, there was "remarkable scientific consensus about predicted effects. . . Of course, one Synod debate, on its own, won't change anything. But if the motion is passed, it will create the conditions for us to do better. . .

"It is really urgent. For the next big conference in Paris to be successful, there needs to be a renewed national and international conversation. . . I think the Church can and should facilitate that urgent public conversation."

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, supported the motion's call for a General Synod working group, describing climate change as "a giant evil - a great demon of our day".

"The damage this Goliath will do to our beautiful earth, if unchecked, is beyond our imagining. It is a giant of deconstruction, and immensely dangerous to future life on this earth, to our children, our grandchildren, and to the poorest-of-the-poor.

"This giant evil of climate change is stealthy and invisible. Its power rests on the accumulation of gas in the atmosphere, which cannot be seen, but can be measured. Its power is fed by greed, blindness, and complacency in the present generation. And we know that this giant wreaks havoc through the immense power of our weather systems, which are themselves unpredictable."

He called for a "fresh dose of urgency and reality on this matter" and said that the Church should put pressure on Parliamentary candidates to raise the issue at party conferences.

The deputy chair of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, the Revd Professor Richard Burridge (University of London), welcomed the motion, saying that climate change was "one of, if not the, biggest ethical investment issue, particularly because its impact will be felt most by the poor".

He understood why some were calling for divestment, but said: "It's not as simple as that: pointing the finger just at the extractive industries gets us off the hook and avoids the fundamental problem - which is our way of life has been fuelled by plentiful, cheap energy.

"Fossil fuels have been the cheapest, most convenient sources of this energy and more and more people around the world want our standard of living. Making the transition away from fossil fuels in a fair and just way is going to be long and hard, and require sacrifices from all of us."

Madeleine Ratcliffe-Homes (Europe) had "long waited for this moment when the environment comes on to the agenda". She called for the General Synod and the Archbishops' Council to work with other faiths throughout the world to ensure the issue was taken seriously. "We need to act now."

Tom Sutcliffe (Southwark) spoke to a number of amendments that he had tabled, saying that he had played no part in forming the motion, as he had been unable to attend the diocesan-synod meeting.

"I believe the Church should get behind ecologically responsible actions and awareness - an immense task in which the Church must share.

. . . The motion as it stands leaves out so much that is relevant to any proper ecological understanding, while at the same time being deluded about the power of either the Church or church members as investors or consumers to do very much about the dangerous, if not disastrous situation facing our world."

Margaret Swinson (Liverpool) spoke to her amendment that would reconstitute the Shrinking the Footprint working group. She reminded the Synod of the 2005 debate on climate change. "Were we serious? I question that now," she said. Her amendment would force the Church to look seriously at church buildings, government structures, and homes, in the fight against carbon emissions.

Mr Sutcliffe moved his amendment, which would change the motion to recognise only the dangers of "excessive" burning of fossil fuels.

Canon Goddardsaid: "We need to reduce to absolutely no burning to have any hope of stopping runaway climate change. I hope Synod will resist this amendment."

The Revd Rosalind Rutherford (Winchester) said: "To quibble over what is 'excessive' is a distraction. In this context, 'excessive' means more than I use. Is it excessive to heat our cold churches for half a dozen people?"

The amendment was clearly lost.

Mr Sutcliffe then moved his second amendment, which would leave out a paragraph in the motion which recognised the large reserves of fossil fuels and replace it with one that warned of the dangers of population growth.

Canon Goddard said that it was important to separate the issues of population growth from climate change. He criticised the amendment for shifting the burden "from the rich world to poor world where they have larger families. The average UK citizen emits in eight days as much CO2 as the average person in one of the 50 developing countries does in a whole year."

April Alexander (Southwark) said that fears over excessive population growth were misplaced. She cautioned against diverting the climate-change discussion and avoiding "uncomfortable conversations" in the "power-hungry developed world".

Jennifer Humphreys (Bath & Wells) agreed: "This amendment seems to give the impression that the poor are to blame for climate change."

Keith Malcouronne (Guildford) said that the motion was flawed as it only focused on fossil fuels. He said: "Even if through technological change we were able to adapt and to minimise the impact of the use of fossil fuels, that wouldn't on its own alleviate all the impact that humankind is having on the climate and planet. Don't throw this amendment out because it very sensibly widens the range of concerns issues and causes."

The amendment was lost, however.

Similarly, Canon Goddard said that the effect of Mr Sutcliffe's next amendment would be to "abrogate responsibility away from ourselves. . . We know the issues are complicated. But we do have £9 billion of assets, and with that we can make a difference."

Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) said he agreed. "This amendment will give people who want to avoid facing up to the difficulties [of battling climate change] an easy way out," he said. " Peter Smith (St Edundsbury & Ipswich) said that Mr Sutcliffe's amendment would not acknowledge the financial responsibility of the Church's investing bodies. Brian Wilson (Southwark) supported the amendment.

The amendment was lost.

Mr Sutcliffe's next amendment was to replace the paragraph calling for a General Synod working group. Canon Goddard said that removing this paragraph "would make it less likely to meet the expectations" of many NGOs and others who were following the debate online.

Steven Saxby (Chelmsford) also opposed the amendment. "I am for action and I am for this Synod taking action." He said that "we need help from the central structures of the Church of England - not just to take action in parishes, but also to take action on the UK and global stages."

The amendment sought to "take out one of the vital components of the Southwark diocesan synod motion", said the Revd Mark Steadman (Southwark).

The amendment was lost.

Synod moved on to the Swinson amendment, which was supported by Canon Goddard.

The vice-chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, Elizabeth Paver (Sheffield), supported the amendment: "Actions speak louder than words." She recalled the presentations made to last year's ACC meeting in New Zealand on climate change: it "would have melted our hearts". People were speaking there who were losing family members that week, she said.

The Revd Janet Appleby (Newcastle) welcomed the use of the words "all parts of the Church of England", because "that includes all of us as individuals too. Are we prepared to take that responsibility and live more simply so that others might simply live?"

She gave three practical suggestions, which she called the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Repair. All three should be considered before recycling, she said.

The amendment was carried.

When the debate resumed on the main motion, Gavin Oldham (Oxford) warned: "This generation has developed an ability to impact the lives of others that follow it to an extent greater than any other generation in human industry, by consuming resources which rightly belong to those future generations, and by wrecking their environment."

Dr Jackie Butcher (Sheffield) spoke about the Government's legally binding target for reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050. "The only way we will generate enough energy for our needs and meet an 80-per-cent CO2 reduction target is to generate energy in a low-carbon manner, and we have to have a grown-up adult and rational conversation about nuclear energy as part of that."

But it was not just about energy generation: "We will no longer have gas central heating in our houses; we will no longer be cooking with gas; domestic and commercial heating will be . . . using low-carbon electricity; and there will no longer be any petrol or diesel cars on the road by 2050.

"That's how we get there. That's what the maths say. That's how it works."

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, hoped that the motion would "help to raise awareness within the C of E of the urgency of the moral, social, and spiritual dimensions of climate change. "We urgently need a new public conversation," he said. "We are talking about our children's future and the future habitability of the planet."

Nobody knew who "owns thebrief" within the C of E, he said, calling for Shrinking the Footprint, the Mission and Public Affairs team, the diocesan environmental network, and the environmental group of bishops to be brought together"with experts from outside church structures".

Dr Anna Thomas-Betts (Oxford) said she worked on a government-funded research project on alternative energy sources in the 1970s, when "petrol prices went sky high." OPEC reduced its prices, and the Govern-ment stopped the research.

The world wasn't going to need less energy, she said, and argued for more effort in the development of alternative energy sources, including carbon capture and storage, and greater use of solar energy.

The chairman of the Mission and Public Affairs council, Philip Fletcher (Archbishops' Council), urged the Synod to "take courage". In the 1970s, two "major global threats" had been identified: lead in petrol and CFCs. "We took urgent national and international action, and we feel the benefits now."

The Church should be "making itself heard" in the run-up to the General Election and the Paris Climate Change Conference.

Summing up the debate, Canon Goddard urged the Synod not to wait for the working group to be set up before taking action.

The amended motion was passed overwhelmingly, with 274 votes for,1 against and 3 abstentions:

That this Synod:

(a) recognising the damage being done to the planet through the burning of fossil fuels;

(b) aware of the huge reserves held by gas, oil and coal extraction industries;

(c) committing itself to taking seriously our Christian responsibility to care for the planet ("the earth is the Lord's");

(d) acknowledging the financial responsibilities of the Church's national investing bodies; and

(e) noting that a review of recommended ethical investment policy with regard to climate change has been begun by the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG),

(i) call upon the national investing bodies to ensure that their investment policy (including the option of disinvestment) is aligned with the theological, moral and social priorities of the Church which finds expression in the reports Sharing God's Planet and Church and Earth 2009-2016 and in the Shrinking the Footprint campaign;

(ii) call upon the EIAG to publish the report of its review by the end of 2014; and

(iii) request the Archbishops' Council to reconstitute the Shrinking the Footprint working group, so that it reports direct to the Council, to monitor, facilitate co-ordination and promote the responses of all parts of the Church of England to environmental "challenges."

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