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C of E ‘to be carbon-neutral by 2030’, after Synod rips up original target

12 February 2020

Synod votes to throw out more cautious 2045 net-zero target

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

A toy koala in Parliament Square on Wednesday morning, pointing to the Extinction Rebellion vigil outside Church House

A toy koala in Parliament Square on Wednesday morning, pointing to the Extinction Rebellion vigil outside Church House

THE General Synod on Wednesday set a 2030 target for net zero carbon emissions for the Church of England, rejecting the recommended target of 2045.

Members of the Synod voted narrowly for the more radical proposal for the C of E to be carbon-neutral in just ten years’ time. The proposal came in an amendment by Canon Professor Martin Gainsborough (Bristol), carried by 144 votes to 129, with ten abstentions.

Canon Gainsborough said that he wanted to push the Church harder. His diocese had already committed itself to the 2030 date.

The seriousness of the situation facing the earth could not be overstated, he said, especially across the world, away from the UK. He argued that there were theological reasons for the move as well. Christianity was about sacrificial life: “Faith is risky.”

Canon Gainsborough admitted: “There are challenges, but let’s not overestimate them.” The target of being net zero by 2045 was not acceptable. “There is nothing more important than this.”

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment, resisted the amendment to his original motion, arguing that 2045 was five years ahead of both the Paris Agreement and the Church’s earlier goal. He feared that pushing parishes around the country to be net zero by 2030 would cause resentment.

GEOFF CRAWFORD/CHURCH TIMESThe Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, in the debate on the climate crisis. Behind him is a graphic showing the acceleration of global heating

Following him, however, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, argued in favour of the amendment. He sensed a lack of connection between the way which Bishop Holtam had spoken of the urgency and the cautious nature of the original target.

Earlier, Bishop Holtam said that, in the light of the climate emergency, the Church needed to rethink its spirituality of creation. Incremental change was not sufficient.

Among other contributions to the debate, the Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers, spoke of the unequal spread of historic endowments in dioceses, and asked how they could be used to combat the climate emergency. He had often heard churches say that they were saving money for a rainy day, but he countered: “Today is the rainy day.”

Canon Maggie Swinson (Liverpool), vice-chair of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), said: “When the climate emergency strikes our fellow Anglicans, we do exercise mission by issuing responses to human need. The Church needs to look at the world from the point of view of the vulnerable, who are being forced to leave their homes. . . These things are happening to us.”

Responding to the debate, Bishop Holtam said that there had been powerful comments on the relationship between Church and state, and spirituality. The Church had to introduce a staged process with individual marking points.

“This is a game-changer. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but that is what we have agreed. . . We will come back in 2022. . . It is a very tall order you have set yourselves.” The Synod would have to work very hard for churches to act on the motion.

The amended motion was clearly carried.

Speaking afterwards, Bishop Holtam repeated that hitting the 2030 target would not be easy. It was encouraging, however — “ a clear statement of intent across the Church and to wider society about our determination to safeguard God’s creation.

“This is a social-justice issue, which affects the world’s poorest soonest and most severely. If the Church is to hold others to account, we have to get our own house in order.”

The final motion reads:

That this Synod, recognising that the global climate emergency is a crisis for God’s creation, and a fundamental injustice, and following the call of the Anglican Communion in ACC Resolutions A17.05 and A17.06;

(a) call upon all parts of the Church of England, including parishes, BMOs [Bishop Mission Orders], education institutions, dioceses, cathedrals, and the NCIs [National Church Institutions], to work to achieve year-on-year reductions in emissions and urgently examine what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030 in order that a plan of action can be drawn up to achieve that target;

(b) request reports on progress from the Environment Working Group and the NCIs every three years beginning in 2022 and;

(c) call on each Diocesan Synod, and cathedral Chapter, to address progress toward net zero emissions every three years.

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