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Scottish Episcopal Church sets 2030 net zero target

07 December 2020

Harry McGregor

St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh

St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh

ANGLICANS in Scotland have matched the Church of England’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions to net zero in a decade.

On Saturday, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to set the 2030 target by 98 votes to 0, with five abstentions. The decision came in the Church’s first-ever online synod, broadcast from St Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, with just a few core participants present in person because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Whereas in England the 2030 deadline had been proposed in a late amendment from the floor during a General Synod debate (News, 12 February), the Scottish motion was proposed by the acting convener of the church in society committee, the Revd Elaine Garman.

She said: “For too long the Anglican Communion’s fifth mark of mission — ‘To safeguard the integrity of creation and to renew and sustain life on earth’ — has been seen by many as something we’ll get around to at some point, or that someone else will deal with. But it doesn’t work that way. We all must act, and act now. As a Church, we must lead.

“During the past nine months, we have changed our lives to protect ourselves and others during the pandemic restrictions. Imagine if we had worked on reducing our carbon footprint the same way. Whilst some of the Covid changes have helped reduce our carbon footprint, it shows we can make changes. But there is so much more to do. We are in a climate emergency, and we need to mobilise like never before.”

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness, welcomed the historic decision. “We are now set for a year of hard work, as the committee and others across the Church and in our partnership organisations seek to bring to Synod a programme of actions that we know will challenge many of us. Clearly, there will be financial implications: implications on how we look after our buildings, and how we use the resources of our planet.

“I am very aware of how important this work is going to be, as we strive to reach a target that will enable us to move from users of creation towards being custodian of all that the Creator has given us.”

The Revd Elaine Garman, who proposed the motion

Speaking before the debate, Ms Garman said that it was particularly significant, considering that Glasgow was hosting the UN climate summit in 2026. She said: “Change is already happening, but the Church has a role to make it happen faster, to put its own house in order, to be part of Scotland’s preparation for the COP26 climate summit next year.

“We have a responsibility to demonstrate courage and stir up complacency. Humankind has great ingenuity, and, when it comes to it, capacity to solve problems when it has the ambition to do so. The Church has an important place to drive that ambition, making a positive contribution in its own right, and to build a connection between people that draws everyone into a common aim. This can be our legacy.”

In England, the decision by the General Synod to decarbonise by 2030 has begun to galvanise churches. Already, more than 3000 churches have used the Energy Footprint Tool app to calculate their carbon footprint. At least one church, St Michael’s, Baddesley Clinton, in rural Warwickshire, has become carbon-neutral after installing under-pew electric heaters, switching to a renewable electricity tariff, and fitting energy efficient LED lights.

The Scots’ decision was welcomed by development groups and environmental campaigners. The head of Christian Aid Scotland, Sally Foster-Fulton, said: “Only this week the secretary-general of the United Nations told the world we have a climate emergency which is impacting most heavily on the world’s most vulnerable people.

“We know all too well here at Christian Aid that those who have done the least to cause the problem suffer the most. . .

“As 2020 draws to a close, we can look ahead to COP26 in Glasgow alongside our church partners in Scotland, as they continue to pursue decisions that will lead to climate justice for those living on the sharp end of the climate emergency.”

The Bright Now campaign manager at Operation Noah, James Buchanan, urged the Church to follow up the net-zero decision by disinvesting from fossil fuels.

Describing the vote as “wonderful news”, he said: “In order to demonstrate leadership on the climate crisis ahead of the UN climate talks in Glasgow next year, it is vital that the Scottish Episcopal Church supports a just and green recovery from Covid-19 by completing divestment from fossil-fuel companies and investing in the clean technologies of the future.”

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