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C of E’s carbon footprint calculated for first time

12 February 2021

Parish churches use about 185,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year

The churchyard of St Mary’s, Beaminster, in the diocese of Salisbury; the church won a Gold Eco Church award from A Rocha UK for its plan to be zero carbon by 2030

The churchyard of St Mary’s, Beaminster, in the diocese of Salisbury; the church won a Gold Eco Church award from A Rocha UK for its plan to be zero c...

THE carbon footprint of Church of England buildings has been calculated for the first time. The estimate is that parish churches use about 185,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.

The data has been gathered by the Energy Footprint Tool (EFT), an online calculator built by the statistics team at Church House, Westminster, which allows parishes to input their energy usage and discover how much carbon-dioxide equivalent they are using (News, 4 September 2020).

Once churches have entered their data, the tool offers advice for how they could cut their energy usage, and a simple comparison on how they are doing compared with churches of similar size.

It is hoped that wider usage of the EFT will help to push the Church towards meeting its target, set by the General Synod, of reaching net-zero emissions by 2030 (News, 14 February 2020)

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, the C of E’s lead bishop on the environment, said that the 2030 target had inspired Anglicans everywhere to “pick up the pace”.

“There has been a magnificent response already, but it is sobering to realise how much more is needed. The Energy Footprint Tool, good advice, and some excellent case studies are available to stimulate, encourage, and help.

“We need to be working at this in every church community — churches, chaplaincies, schools, homes, and offices — as we move towards our 2030 target for the sake of the world God loves.”

The figure of 185,000 tonnes is 12.5 per cent smaller than a comparable figure that was estimated in a 2006 carbon-management project for the C of E. The total is equivalent to the emissions that come from 40,000 cars driven for one year, or the energy used by 21,000 homes for a year.

To sequester the same amount of carbon would require just over three million trees to be grown for a decade.

Data was submitted through the EFT by 4300 churches, 28 per cent of the total in the Church. This was then used to extrapolate figures for the entire Church.

They suggest that larger churches and urban churches tend to have bigger carbon footprints than smaller and rural parishes. Also, the more usage that a church has each week, the greater its emissions.

The 13 per cent largest churches in the C of E are calculated to account for one third of the Church’s total footprint. There are significant differences between parishes: the average large urban church emits almost 27 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent every year — more than ten times that of a small rural church (about two tonnes).

About five per cent of churches are found to be already at net-zero, owing to their use of renewable electricity tariffs. If all churches that used only electricity switched to similar tariffs, it would cut 36,000 tonnes of carbon each year, it is suggested: a fall of 22 per cent.

The diocese with the largest footprint is London, which is held responsible for an estimated 12,600 tonnes a year: three times the average of 4100, and almost 50 per cent larger than the second biggest emitter, Leeds.

C of E schools are also included in the 2030 net-zero target, and some are already taking steps to cut their emissions.

After receiving a £120,000 government grant, St Andrew’s C of E Primary School, in Chedworth, Gloucestershire, will become one of the first net-zero schools in Britain after it converted all lighting to LED, insulated its building, and installed double-glazing.

The school also plans to add solar panels to its roof, and replace its old oil-fired boiler with a greener air-source heat-pump. The head teacher, Nikita Smith, said that the works would show her pupils that everyone can contribute towards making a change, and that it could happen “on their doorstep”.

“It is vital that we teach children that what they do matters,” she said, “whether this be in their actions towards our planet, or actions towards each other.”

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