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Welsh Governing Body: Church overwhelming votes to declare climate emergency

by
23 April 2021

The Governing Body sets 2030 net-zero-carbon target for all its activities. Pat Ashworth reports

CHURCH IN WALES

Solar panels on St Joseph’s, Cwmaman, near Aberdare, Wales

Solar panels on St Joseph’s, Cwmaman, near Aberdare, Wales

THE Governing Body (GB) of the Church in Wales has voted overwhelmingly to declare a climate emergency and to plan for the whole Church to have net zero carbon emissions, ideally by 2030.

The motion from CHASE, the church’s environment group, was proposed by the Bishop of St Davids, Dr Joanna Penberthy. She described it as “serious and deeply practical. . . So serious that it warrants the use of the term ‘emergency’.” The motion, she said, was timely, in advance of November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, which will agree the next set of targets.

Mitigating the worst effects of climate change was, unfortunately, the best that could be hoped for, the Bishop said. “The life we live in the UK has already adversely affected the lives of others across the globe.” She issued a plea for countries to act together now to limit the rise in global warming to 1.5 per cent by 2050.

The motion was not asking the Governing Body to “wave magic wands” or to go out on a limb, since the Welsh government had already committed itself to net zero carbon by 2050. “We are asking it to commit to the Church in Wales becoming a part of the answer. . . Brave and committed activists have been working on these things for years: now is the time for a move from aspiration to practical application. We are in a position to make a difference.”

The motion was seconded by the Revd Rebecca Stevens (Monmouth). Evidence was building that the poorest and most vulnerable people would be the hardest hit by climate change: many households across the UK were already unable to pay flood-risk fire-insurance premiums. One in six species in Wales was at risk of extinction; more than 30 per cent of terrestrial mammals in Wales were at risk of disappearing.

The Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, considered the present appetite for reopening all church buildings when circumstances permitted. There would be places with more than one church building in a group, and others where there might be four buildings being separately heated. He was not talking about closure, but about rationalising the number of buildings to make sure that the best use was made of them. He asked for reflection on that.

Dr Henry Shepherd (Llandaff) was proud that Llandaff was designated an Eco-Church Bronze diocese: this was a helpful checklist for impact — “an extremely useful tool”. He recommended the consideration of technology such as ground-source heat-pumps, and highlighted the importance of all churches’ taking part in local and community power-generation schemes. There were community grants available for heating; he hoped that churches would be “first in the queue and advocating for these”.

The Revd Nigel Doyle (Swansea & Brecon) recalled early attitudes to solar panels on church roofs. He wanted the early stages of the action plan to look at income generation for cost-effective ground thermal systems, and also at the expedience of faculty applications; grant applications for solar panels were often time-limited. “Income generation must be a priority for cross-fertilisation into other schemes.”

The Archdeacon of Margam, the Ven. Michael Komor (Llandaff), described himself as a committed environmentalist. “Emergency” meant “doing everything we can as soon as we can”. Was there any justification in holding meetings like this one other than online in future?

The Revd Jonathon Wright (Swansea & Brecon) asked what financial resources were behind the plan. A significant budget needed to be proposed. The Revd Phil Bettinson (St Asaph) said that the predominantly rural context of the Church in Wales necessitated many car trips on Sunday morning. It would be helpful if the report would look at charging points for electric cars in church car parks and vicarages.

The Revd Dr Peter Lewis (Llandaff) welcomed the practicality of the proposals, and urged the creation of worship resources that could encourage the Church in a liturgical as well as a practical sense. The Revd Matthew Davies (Monmouth) described the motion as “absolutely fantastic: these things need to be in the mind of committees at all levels to ensure that we have on our minds that this is an emergency, ensuring that is clear right across the board”.

Clive Hughes (St Asaph) was concerned about heat loss from windows in church buildings. He wanted to see attitudes change to fitting secondary glazing to church windows — this would be a step forward to reduce power demands. Paul Williams (St Asaph) wondered what could be done about more electric vehicles, when the government was looking to cut subsidies.

Paul Murray (Swansea & Brecon) urged every church member and congregation to look seriously at the viability of reopening their churches. “Now is the time to say, should we close this church building, should we move en bloc?” Some of the Victorian churches in particular were “in a dreadful state”. Susan Fogarty (Bangor) was hoping that the Church’s eco-awards scheme would be relaunched, “to enable people to start to engage”.

The Revd Dr Adrian Morgan (Swansea & Brecon) said that the pandemic had proved that the Church in Wales could be “agile and quick to change” when change had to be managed. He urged: “Think strategically about how to be more fit for purpose in today’s world. We all know that closing buildings and finding different uses can be painful, but people can be ready for change when needed. This is strategically about how we use our buildings, many of which had been closed for a year.” The Revd Naomi Starkey (Bangor) echoed a a sense of urgency about “what can be done right now”.

Dr Penberthy promised that the Church in Wales’s website would have resources from the next day. “Post-pandemic, we are committed to change the way we work,” she said.

The vote was 111 for, with one against and one abstention.

The motion called on the Governing Body to:

1. Declare a Climate Emergency as follows:

We acknowledge that an urgent and rapid global response to global warming is now necessary.

We welcome the fact that solutions to alleviate the climate crisis are widely available, including renewable technology, sustainable transport options and zero- carbon buildings.

We support the decisions of governments, councils and organisations across Wales to pass motions declaring a climate emergency and setting net zero carbon emissions targets for their local areas.

We should endeavour, through an action plan, to reach a net zero carbon emission position for the activities of the Church in Wales as soon as is practically possible.

2. Requests that the Representative Body prepares an action plan, for consideration by the Governing Body at or before its meeting in April 2022, that sets out how the whole of the Church in Wales can reach a net zero carbon emission position by 2030 or as soon as practically possible thereafter.

 

Disinvestment

THE Governing Body also voted for disinvestment from fossil fuels, in an update to the Church’s ethical-investment policy.

The motion was moved by the chairman of the Representative Body (RB), James Turner (ex officio), who noted that the policy had been updated on several times in recent years relating to groups engaged in payday loans, and to fossil fuels and the low-carbon economy in general.

The substance of the paper had been worked on by the Investment Committee and the Ethical Investment Group in 2019, and four changes were proposed. One was minor: the word “environmental” had been added to the wording: “We will endeavour to engage with companies . . . where concerns exist over environmental, social and governance issues.”

The recommended clause on fossil fuels replaced a previous clause excluding investments in companies which derived more than ten per cent of turnover from the extraction of thermal coal or production of oil from tar sands. The Church in Wales would now “not normally or knowingly invest in any company which derives more than 5% of its turnover from the production or the extraction of fossil fuels”.

Another recommendation was that the investment limit for tobacco, gambling, and alcohol be reduced from 20 per cent to ten per cent so that the policy would now be “not normally or knowingly to invest in any company which derives more than 10% of its turnover from a primary focus on gambling, or sale of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products”.

The words “beyond areas of legitimate defence and international peacekeeping” have also been deleted from a clause which declares that the Church will not invest in any company “which derives more than 5% of turnover from pornography, predatory lending activities or the proliferation of armaments.”

Mr Turner acknowledged that the changes would inevitably affect investment income. The RB was aware of that, and it would be managed and maintained. He assured the Governing Body that the RB’s investment portfolio was very well diversified: “We don’t have all our eggs in one basket.” The RB had been clear that intentionally limiting its investment in fossil fuels was something that it wanted to do. All the amendments would be implemented by the end of 2021.

The motion was seconded by the Bishop of St Davids, Dr Joanna Penberthy.

The Revd Peter Ratcliffe (St Davids) was concerned about the ten per cent of turnover from alcohol, gambling, and tobacco, and particularly about the five per cent from pornography; the Church must surely take the lead here, he suggested. Bob Evans (Monmouth) believed that it would be helpful not just to set a threshold of five per cent for investment in fossil fuels by 2025, but to set a target of going down to zero.

Mr Turner clarified the percentage figure on turnover from commodities such as tobacco: the intention of these, he emphasised, was “not to take the ten per cent and five per cent as open doors”: it was a means of not prohibiting investment in, say, a supermarket chain of which a very small percentage of sales was in tobacco.

“Equally, there are occasions when we invest in a fund where it is not possible to see through to the individual holdings,” he sad. “It is practical for day-to-day management purposes, something to allow sensible and worthwhile investment to go ahead.”

The vote was 94 for, with six against, and eight abstentions.

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