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Net zero carbon by 2030 is do-able

21 February 2020

Martin Gainsborough, who moved the crucial General Synod amendment, explains


Climate-change demonstrators outside Church House, Westminster, during the General Synod meeting this week

Climate-change demonstrators outside Church House, Westminster, during the General Synod meeting this week

IT HAS been intriguing to watch the reaction to the decision by the Gen­eral Synod last week to back a 2030 net zero carbon target over and above the recommended 2045 (News, 14 February).

Some, both inside and outside the Church, have been euphoric. “This is exactly what the Church should be do­­­­­­­­­ing,” they say. “It’s prophetic.” “It’s missional.” “At last, the Church has taken the lead,” others say. Re­­­spond­­­ing to the historic vote, Christian Aid applauded the Synod’s cour­­­age, calling the decision “truly good news for the poor”, and urging politicians to “rise to the ambition set by the Church”.

Others, however, have been more circumspect. The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment, while welcoming the vote as “a clear statement of intent across the Church”, said that he feared that the new target could cause resentment. Mean­­­­­­­­while, hard-pressed parishes are asking how they will find the time and money to lower their church­­­­­es’ carbon emis­sions, not least when it involves the challenges of ancient buildings and the faculties needed for any changes.


THERE is no doubt that a 2030 target is ambitious. We are in un­­­chart­­­ed territory. We do not yet have a clear baseline of what the Church’s current carbon emissions are, mak­ing planning difficult, although tools for this are improving all the time.

But this is not a reason to be de­­featist. For the sake of future gen­er­­­­a­­­­tions, and for brothers and sisters across the world already suffering from climate change, it is vital to do everything in our power to try to hit the target. It is, after all, ten years that we have given ourselves, not ten minutes. You can do a lot in ten years if you put your mind to it.

The motion approved by the Synod calls on parishes, Bishop’s Mis­­sion Orders, education institu­tions, dioceses, cathedrals, and the National Church Institutions to work to achieve year-on-year reduc­tions in emissions, to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. It calls on the Church to examine urgently what it will take to reach net zero, to draft action plans, and to report regularly on progress. (Now that the target is 2030, it is unlikely that the three-year reporting cycle agreed last week will be adequate.)


WHAT needs to happen to get us on the road to net zero by 2030?

The first thing to say is that we will not achieve the target if indi­vid­ual churches are simply left to get on with it. Achieving net zero by 2030 will need a big push by the Church nationally. We cannot have 16,000 churches, or even 42 dioceses, work­ing out how to solve problems in­­­di­­vidu­ally. We need to strengthen lead­­er­ship and establish best prac­tice.

Hitting the 2030 target will un­­doubtedly require a significant in­­­jec­­tion of money across the whole Church, and some of it will likely have to come from government. But we do have money, and it is now a choice about how we spend it.

Meanwhile, strategic plans at all levels of the Church will need to be adjusted, on the understanding that tackling the climate emergency will be a significant part of the Church’s work for the next decade. It is not that we won’t be able to do other things, but we will need to give this work priority over some of our planned activities. If we truly believe that the future of God’s creation is at stake, however, this can only be right.

While, undoubtedly, there are chal­­­­­­­­­­lenges, let us not exaggerate them. Churches will need guidance and resources, but there are things that they can do right now to get themselves on the path to net zero, as many are discovering. Moreover, there are exciting missional oppor­tun­ities here, not least for con­necting with young people and the wider com­­mun­­ity.

The charity Climate Stewards re­­com­mends six steps that churches can take to lower their emissions: carrying out a carbon-footprint audit and reducing emissions where you can; switching to a green energy sup­plier; registering for the A Rocha Eco Church scheme; joining in with the LiveLent campaign; engaging with your diocesan advisory com­mit­­­­tee; and offsetting unavoidable emis­sions. (The point about net zero is that it allows for some offsetting.)

Yes, some appear to have been un­­settled by the Synod vote. But, by committing itself to altering radically the way it lives for the sake of others, the Church is doing no more than following Jesus’s teaching. As a re­­sult, more will learn of Jesus’s love.


The Revd Professor Martin Gains­borough is Chaplain to the Bishop of Bristol, a Residentiary Canon of Bristol Cathedral, and a member of the General Synod.

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