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250 churches achieve net-zero emissions. Only 15,750 to go

22 November 2021

National lockdowns in 2020 result in a decrease of emissions by almost one third


Solar panels on the cloister roof of Salisbury Cathedral

Solar panels on the cloister roof of Salisbury Cathedral

A YEAR of lockdowns has unexpectedly propelled the Church of England towards its target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2030.

But the latest data gathered by the Church’s Energy Footprint Tool (EFT) suggests that, had it not been for the pandemic, carbon emissions of the Church’s 40,000 buildings would have increased slightly in 2020 to 189,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases — up from the 185,000 tonnes estimated in 2019 (News, 12 February).

The closure of churches during early national lockdowns (News, 24 March 2020) resulted in a decrease of emissions by almost one third (27 per cent), meaning that the total net-carbon footprint for the Church of England in 2020 was 137,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases. This was comprised of an estimated 118,000 tonnes from parish churches plus an estimated 19,000 tonnes from other church buildings such as church halls.

The EFT is 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).

The team’s second report, published on Monday, explains: “Covid/Lockdown adjustments would suggest that if 2020 was a normal year, without periods of lockdown, there would not be a drop in CO2e nationally at all. The Covid/lockdown adjusted total net carbon footprint for the Church of England’s church buildings in 2020 would be 189,000 tonnes (163,000 tonnes for church buildings alone, and 26,000 tonnes from church halls and ‘other church buildings’), almost exactly the same as the figure given in the 2019 Energy Footprint Tool report.”

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).

Altogether, 3600 churches produced usable data in 2020, or 24 per cent of the C of E’s 16,000 churches. This was then used to extrapolate the output of the entire Church. Of the sample, seven per cent (250) reported net-zero carbon (or lower) emissions. In 2019, this figure was four per cent (172) of the 4300 churches submitting usable data.

One third of the 2020 sample were using renewable electricity tariffs; 11 per cent were using renewable gas tariffs. Just two per cent were using on-site solar panels; fewer than one per cent were using wood chips, pellets, or alternative heating technologies.

As in 2019, 12 per cent of churches in the C of E — usually the largest — were calculated to account for 33 per cent of the Church’s total footprint.

The Bishop of Selby, Dr John Thomson, who chairs the net-zero-carbon sub-committee group, said that, while the increase in net-zero churches was promising, he hoped that more would respond. It suggested, he said, that more were using “pre-approved renewable suppliers, and addressing the big and small measures which can be taken to reduce carbon impacts. This is positive early step in our ambitious journey to a wholly net-zero carbon Church by 2030.

“However, we would like to encourage more churches to use the tool so we can build up a fuller picture of the challenges facing the Church as we continue our journey to net zero.”

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