THE General Synod voted overwhelmingly to continue developing the Church’s environmental programmes, after it resumed a debate on a diocesan motion amended at the York group of sessions last July.
Reintroducing the motion from the London diocesan synod (Truro diocesan synod having carried a motion in identical terms), as amended, Enid Barron (London) said that it provided a framework for action on climate change, which did not call for extra expenditure: that was for the Church Commissioners to decide. It provided a plan to help churches to measure their carbon-dioxide emissions. The review process had been helpful and positive, and had resulted in a plan of action. Truro diocese, for example, had run its own experiment in measuring carbon-dioxide emissions. This had been effective and could be included in future Statistics for Mission, she suggested. “The Church can be a very effective ambassador for climate change if it acts correctly.”
In a maiden speech, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, said that climate change could not be a matter of indifference to anyone. In Cornwall, coastlines had been effected. In his previous appointment as chief executive of the Church Mission Society, he had witnessed marginalised communities being further marginalised by flooding, migration, and increased food insecurity as a result of climate change. He asked: “Who are the prophets of our age sounding the clearest warning? It is not the Church: it is the schoolchildren protesting on the street. . . I do not want to patronise or chide them: I am 100 per cent with them. . . The Church needs to recover our prophetic edge.”
Cornwall had already taken significant steps towards renewable energy, through the geothermal project among other things. “Cornwall has the hottest rocks in the UK,” he said, and they would provide clean, sustainable power for years to come. Far too much of the debate in July had focused on how much it would cost the Church: “Not taking action will literally cost the earth.” He urged the Synod to support the motion.
Sophie Mitchell (C of E Youth Council) also spoke of the protest of young people across the UK, declaring a climate emergency. She questioned how much change this would actually bring: she called for clear actions, not just more paperwork. The Synod had so far failed to provide a duty of care for the earth. Her home and university churches were both eco-churches. The only deadline mentioned in the submission was 2020, she said: “This is because we are not taking the issue seriously. . . There should be more deadlines. This debate will continue for years to come.” Future generations would suffer the consequences.
Prudence Dailey (Oxford) urged members to oppose the motion. She argued that small, local-level measures to reduce carbon emissions would make little difference. “We should not kid ourselves that the local church can do anything about climate change,” she said. While it made sense to not “pour plastic into the oceans”, she said, “developing countries such as India and China are pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” and, therefore, “the solutions will be large-scale and technological, including possibly the use of nuclear.”
John Spence (Archbishops’ Council) said that the Council would procure a tool to measure the carbon footprint of all the dioceses. There would also be a tool for use at local level, so that parishes could enjoy financial savings, as well as environmental-impact savings.
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said that more resources needed to be devoted to reducing the Church’s carbon footprint. “As a National Church, we have less than half a full-time post to help us do this. . . Unless we put serious resources into this, we risk ourselves not being aligned in the way we ask others to be.” Referring to the Church’s Five Marks of Mission, he argued that the fifth,“To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth”, was integral to the other four, which included pursuing peace and reconciliation, and responding to human need through service.
In a maiden speech, Prebendary Cate Edmonds (Exeter) spoke of the destruction of small island states in the South Pacific by heavy storms, severe flooding, and rising sea levels. She encouraged dioceses with connections to these islands to help where they could. She, too, praised the protests by young people, and urged the Church, too, to be good stewards, “starting now. The effects are happening now. We have deliberated too long. . . The Church must be part of the solution, not the pollution.”
Penny Allen (Lichfield) also supported the motion. “Despite President Trump’s state of denial, the air we breathe is becoming warmer.” She reminded the Synod of the C of E campaign Shrinking the Footprint. “We need to be seen to be caring for more than God’s acre.”
Responding to Miss Dailey, Annika Matthews (Youth Council) said: “It is about what we can do, not about what we can’t do.” Her diocese in Manchester was working hard to do small things for the environment, such as promoting cycling, a community garden, and an eco-fest. The Church could have significant impact on raising awareness of climate change.
Canon James Allison (Leeds) had been late for the diocesan environment committee’s meeting on the day that the BBC had announced that carbon-dioxide emissions had risen so high that it was too late to make a difference. The meeting had been in despair, he said. He had heard God urge him to say the word “hope”. He had done so in the prayers, and the atmosphere had changed. He called on the Synod to hear and give the people hope on this issue.
The First Church Estates Commissioner, Loretta Minghella, said: “At the moment, the world remains on course for catastrophic climate change. . . There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.” She spoke of the Synod’s request, in July, for the Commissioners to “get on with the job of persuading companies to do more”, and reported that they had “moved Shell, BP, Exxon, Glencore”. This was greeted with applause.
“We have to get our own house in order if we are going to call others to change,” she said. Counties had “common but differentiated responsibilities, and ours are greater”. At the Lambeth Conference next year, “Will we tell them we are leaving it to others to solve this problem?”
The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) spoke as a member of the environmental working group in Norwich diocese. He drew attention to the words of Lionel Lieber, a Baptist theologian who had spoken of the sin of abrogation. “We are called to be stewards of creation . . . and to abrogate that responsibility is a sin.” Perhaps the Archbishops Council might act “as a clearing house of ideas, of how we might be able to do small things that add up to making a difference”.
The Revd Andrew Yates (Truro) said that acting as a diocesan environmental officer had often been to plough “a very lonely furrow”. In comparison with society outside the Church, not many of his colleagues had been interested in the work, or recognised it as important. He encouraged members to meet their DEOs.
The motion was carried by 279-3, with 4 recorded abstentions. It read:
That this Synod:
(a) recognise the escalating threat to God’s creation from global warming and climate change, and the suffering caused, particularly to the poor;
(b) recall the previous resolution of the Synod, including 3 “to develop Shrinking the Footprint (StF) to enable the whole Church to address the issue of climate change”;
(c) call on every diocese to have an environment programme with a designated member of the bishop’s staff team to lead and advocate for the programme;
(d) call on the Environmental Working Group, supported by the national teams for the Church of England Environmental Programme (CoEEP) and Mission & Public Affairs:
(i) to prepare and submit a framework plan to the Archbishops’ Council for the promotion, coordination and rapid acceleration of the CoEEP, with particular attention to reducing the Church of England’s energy use and CO2 emissions;
(ii) to continue developing, and making available, tools for the annual collation of the energy consumption of cathedrals, churches and church halls and calculation of their total CO2 emissions to enable monitoring of progress towards the Church’s target of reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050;
(iii) to promote communication and peer-review between individual dioceses as a means of encouraging best practice in the area of environmental policy, with special reference to investments, property and land use; and activities supporting the CoEEP and Eco Church Initiatives;
(iv) to compile and submit a progress report to the Synod at least every three years; and
(e) call on the Archbishops’ Council urgently to assess what human and financial resources would be required to enable the work in (d) above, and to report this back at the February 2019 group of sessions.
Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions