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Climate battle must start right now, says bishop

21 February 2020

Bishop Holtam responds to 2030 target set by the General Synod

Christian Climate Action

Mock children’s coffins in the climate-action demo outside Church House, Westminster, before the Synod vote last week

Mock children’s coffins in the climate-action demo outside Church House, Westminster, before the Synod vote last week

THE Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on environmental issues, is writing to all bishops and diocesan secretaries this week, in response to the target set at the General Synod last week to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2030.

The most immediate problem facing the C of E is that it has no idea what its carbon footprint is at present. Bishop Holtam will ask parishes to use a new Energy Footprint Tool to measure the energy they use. The online tool also generates a dashboard to show churches how they compare. For details, see cofe.io/footprint.

Responding to the new target, 15 years before the official recommendation, the Bishop said: “We aren’t under any illusion that this will be easy. Synod’s target sets a serious challenge for the whole Church to examine urgently the steps necessary to achieve the kind of year-on-year carbon reductions we need. This is a national goal which will need more than 16,000 local plans supported by the right policies and resource.

“But the science tells us there’s no time to lose if we are to limit the warming of the planet humans are causing. The tone at Synod was overwhelmingly that Christians should respond urgently to our calling to safeguard God’s creation, and go as fast as we can.

“The measure of our intent will be how many dioceses, deaneries, parishes, cathedrals, schools, and all the bodies responsible for church property put the matter high on the agenda and review their plan regularly, with a named local lead, and engaging the whole community.”

He continued: “A great way to begin would be to take up the #LiveLent challenge, with 40 days of prayers, reflections, and actions for adults and children, and to read the Archbishop’s Lent book, Saying Yes to Life.”

The new target was welcomed by the environmental adviser to the Archbishops’ Council, David Shreeve. He agreed with the Bishop’s view that the first job was to quantify the scale of the task. “If I were running a cathedral or a church of any size, I’d want some guidance,” he said.

He had been trying to get the Church to take environmental awareness seriously for years. “I’m just sad it’s taken a climate emergency to get it this high up the agenda.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but I’m not a fan of the word ‘impossible’. It’s a great opportunity, and now is the time to roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

“There is a lot of support for the Church to lead on this. We’re one of the few organisations that people can join, get together, and represent their community. If we’re going to take part and comment on international events like the COP26 climate summit, or Lambeth 2020, we have to show we mean what we say and get our own house in order. It’s great to see the Church of England leading the way.”

Christian organisations welcomed the 2030 date, including Christian Climate Action, which held a vigil with Synod members on the morning of the vote, outside Church House, with a banner that read “2045 is too late”.

Christian Aid’s director of policy and campaigns, Patrick Watt, said: “It is hugely positive to see the Church of England placing itself at the forefront of action to address the climate emergency. As Synod recognised, this will be a challenging target, and the Church will need to work hard to meet it; but it will be celebrated by vulnerable people on the front lines of the climate crisis who will see an institution taking the danger seriously and responding to it. This truly is good news to the poor.”

The Synod motion did not extend to the Church’s financial holdings. The head of responsible investment for the Church Commissioners, Edward Mason, acknowledged, however, that the next ten years were crucial. The Commissioners have announced their plan to decarbonise their investment portfolio by 2050 at the latest.

“Climate change is the challenge of our age,” he said. “The 2020s are the decade in which we need to make decisive progress, both halting the growth in global greenhouse-gas emissions, and setting the world on course to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Read more on the story from Martin Gainsborough, who moved the amendment, and in our leader comment this week

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