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Environment is top of General Synod agenda in York

19 June 2015

MOTIONS calling for urgent action to address climate change will be at the heart of the next sessions of the General Synod, which meets five months before a landmark international summit in Paris.

The meeting, from 10 to 13 July in York, will be the last for the current membership. Elections for the next quinquennium take place in the autumn.

In York, the Synod will be asked not only to urge governments to tackle global warming, but to put the Church's own house in order.

"The environment theme is a big one for obvious reasons," the General Secretary of the Synod, William Fittall, said at a press conference about the agenda on Friday. He referred to summit in Paris in December at which 196 countries will meet to sign a new climate-change agreement. He also mentioned the recent reform of the Church's own investment policies (News, 1 May).

Asked to contrast the Synod's response to climate change and the encyclical published by the Vatican this week, Mr Fittall said that "you would struggle to put a cigarette paper between [them]".

On Monday 13 July, a motion entitled "Combating Climate Change: the Paris Summit and the Mission of the Church" will be moved by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtham, who chairs the Environment Working Group.

It urges governments to agree "long-term pathways to a low-carbon future" and calls on the Synod to endorse the World Bank's call for ending fossil-fuel subsidies.

The motion also seeks to implement some of the proposals made by the Bishops' Climate Change Network convened by the Archbishop of Cape Town earlier this year ( News, 2 April), including the development of new "ecotheological resources", and a fast at the beginning of each month "for climate justice".

The second motion, moved in the afternoon by the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, relates to climate change and investment policy.

It affirms the national investment bodies' disinvestment from thermal coal or the production of oil from tar sands, and calls on them to "engage robustly with companies and policy-makers on the need to act to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, and where necessary, use the threat of disinvestment from companies as a key lever for change."

Before the two debates, the Synod will spend an hour-and-a-half doing group work on the environment.

Another noteworthy debate will take place on the Saturday, when Canon Simon Killwick will move a private members' motion on senior leadership. Signed by 119 people (the method whereby a motion secures a place on the agenda), it reflected many members' dissatisfaction with the lack of debate on the so-called Green report, Mr Fittall said.          

Canon Killwick's motion calls for a debate on the related Faith and Order Commission report Senior Leadership: a resource for reflection, which had been commissioned by General Synod in 2009, took five years to complete, and was never presented to the Synod. A background paper from Canon Killwick refers to its being given the "long-grass treatment", and asks whether the Church is "in danger now of replacing medieval prince-bishops with 21st-century CEO-bishops".

The legislative business on the York agenda includes final approval of the draft safeguarding legislation, which gives bishops increased powers to suspend those deemed to present a risk, and to direct that priests undergo a risk assessment.

Mr Fittall noted that part of the reason for the 5.3 per cent increase in national expenditure was the "huge" expansion of safeguarding resources. In 2014 the Archbishops' Council budgeted to spend £44,500 in this area. This will increase more than twelvefold to £557,500 in 2016. This was "absolutely necessary and unavoidable" given that it was an "absolute priority to put survivors first", Mr Fittall said.

A new set of faculty jurisdiction rules, described by Mr Fittall as the "first fruits" of the simplification review, are also up for approval, as are rules excepting certain property transactions by PCCs from the normal requirement for diocesan consent. On Sunday, the Synod will be asked to give final approval to the additional texts for holy baptism in accessible language.

Asked about the Bishop of Willesden's recent description of the General Synod as "very out of date" (News, 24 April), Mr Fittall said that some people had in previous decades regarded it as "the Promised Land", believing that it would be "the engine room" for reform. This was "a rather odd notion", he said. Growth and tackling long-term decline would not be achieved through the Synod.

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