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Prepare for climate refugees, C of E’s green advisers warn

01 November 2019

Church’s carbon footprint ‘needs urgent reduction’


Tens of thousands of apples were washed into the River Wye in Herefordshire by heavy rainfall last weekend

Tens of thousands of apples were washed into the River Wye in Herefordshire by heavy rainfall last weekend

CHURCHES in the UK should make plans to house “climate refugees”, the C of E’s environmental advisers have urged.

The Church must also move much faster in its response to climate change, and aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The national Environmental Working Group (EWG), chaired by the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, today published a statement calling for immediate action to reduce the C of E’s carbon footprint, as well as manage its churchyards and agricultural land to improve biodiversity. The Church’s current goal is to achieve an 80-per-cent reduction by 2050.

The heating of church buildings must move away from oil and gas towards renewable energy sources, the EWG says. Heating in churches should not aim to heat the whole church space but instead focus on heating people in churches. Dioceses must also invest much more in diocesan environmental officers, as some areas are relying on “under-resourced and over-stretched volunteers”. There are currently nine vacancies in dioceses for environment officers.

Bishop Holtam said this week that the climate crisis was an issue “of such urgency that the whole Church needs to make it a priority”, and that every bishop had to “be a leader on this.

“The Church needs to recognise this is a climate emergency, and speed up its actions. We are responding, but we need to move faster. We ought to work to ensure every church is an eco-church, and that in every congregation every Christian is asking questions about how we can live more lightly. There is plenty to encourage us, but there is plenty more we ought to be doing.”

The EWG statement looks ahead to a time of crisis. “As the impacts of climate breakdown start to accelerate and the impact of biodiversity loss is seen more clearly, we foresee an increasing need and opportunity for the churches to play a missional role in communities across the country.

“Local churches can act as a catalyst in their community for carbon reduction initiatives and climate resilience strategies, as well as preparing to provide sanctuary in extreme weather events and for climate refugees from within and outside of the UK.”

The Church’s ancient buildings present an enormous challenge, the group acknowledges. “We wish to keep our buildings open and vibrantly used, whilst also cutting their energy use; we are determined find solutions to these complex challenges and take concerted action.”

Energy audits should be carried out urgently across churches, housing, schools, farming, forestry, investment portfolios, and offices to develop a national carbon-reduction plan, and an energy-footprint tool is being developed to do that.

Bishop Holtam said that he was proud of the Church’s financial strategy, which plans to disinvest from oil and gas companies if, by 2023, they are not on course to meet Paris Agreement targets.

He said that he supported the work of Extinction Rebellion. “They have done a very good job in raising the issue up the agenda. It’s a movement with a strong sense of vision and purpose,” he said, although its demand for net-zero carbon emissions by 2025 was not feasible.

Next year’s Lent campaign will focus on the environment, and there are plans for events surrounding the UN climate-change summit COP26, in Glasgow, in November 2020. Climate change and the environment will also be a central item on the agenda of the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

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