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Cautious welcome for Commissioners’ net-zero strategy for land investments

20 August 2021

Church Commissioners

Cover image from For the Common Good: Stewardship at the Church Commissioners, published in June

Cover image from For the Common Good: Stewardship at the Church Commissioners, published in June

THE Church Commissioners have announced that they are developing a new net-zero carbon strategy for their land investments.

The Commissioners oversee a fund worth £9.2 billion, of which 15 per cent is made up of rural, strategic land and timber investments. Besides reducing carbon emissions, the plan seeks to address biodiversity loss on its land.

The engagement analyst at the Church Commissioners, Harry Ashman, spoke with the website Environmental Finance about the Commissioners’ plan. “Since the industrial revolution, society has been on a steady march towards forgetting that we are utterly reliant upon nature to survive and thrive. We must understand how ecosystem services can be a driver of value and positive impact.”

The Rector of All Saints’, Ascot Heath, in Oxford diocese, who chairs Operation Noah, the Revd Dr Darrell Hannah, praised the initiative, but said that if the Commissioners were truly committed to the nature crisis there were further steps to be taken.

“Operation Noah warmly welcomes the announcement that the Church Commissioners are developing a net-zero strategy for their land,” he said. “Given the recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report [News, 13 August] and the need for urgent action on the climate and biodiversity crises in this decade, we urge that the new net-zero strategy includes signing the international ‘30x30 commitment’, thus committing the Commissioners to protecting at least 30 per cent of their land holdings by 2030.

“In order to lead the way in demonstrating responsible stewardship, we call on the Church Commissioners to significantly increase tree coverage on their land to match those of comparable landowners, such as the Crown Estate and the National Trust.”

Hannah Malcolm, an ordinand and environmental campaigner (Features, 4 December 2020), welcomed the new plan, and said that its implementation would be an act of worship.

“The complexities of implementing this ambition across a huge variety of habitats and tenancies is undeniable,” she said. “But making a commitment to do so — and carefully scrutinising its implementation over the next few years — is a vital part of the Church’s call to holiness: giving thanks and praise to God in all the times and places we are given, loving our present and future neighbour, and pursuing generosity over personal gain.”

Other observers were keen to see the details of the Commissioners’ net-zero strategy and that they did not use loopholes such as including “international offsets”, which the UK Government has committed to avoiding in reaching its own net-zero target.

A campaigner and the author of Who Owns England?, Guy Shrubsole, welcomed the net-zero objective, but warned: “If it’s just by claiming plantation forests in the US offset emissions in England, then we’ll know that it isn’t a very serious plan.”

He also hoped to see plans from the Commissioners on how they would improve the poor condition of many of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest that they own, and suggested “rewetting the 5000 acres of wasted peat soils they own in the Fens, currently leaking carbon dioxide into the air”.

Temperature records continue to be broken in parts of Europe. On Wednesday of last week, Italy experienced Europe’s highest-ever recorded temperature of 48.8ºC. Three days later, records in Spain were broken with temperatures of 47.2ºC.

In southern France, thousands of people have been evacuated around St Tropez as wildfires spread. This comes a week after similar evacuations were needed in Greece, as firefighters from 20 European countries helped to tackle the fires which raged across Greece’s second largest island of Evia (News, 13 August).

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