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C of E’s net-zero consultation launched — with recognition that the money isn’t there

01 November 2021


A large carbon bubble installed in Trafalgar Square by Westminster City Council and PwC, on Thursday of last week, to raise awareness of the need to reduce carbon emissions, in advance of COP26, which began on Sunday

A large carbon bubble installed in Trafalgar Square by Westminster City Council and PwC, on Thursday of last week, to raise awareness of the need to r...

A CONSULTATION on the means of making the Church of England a net-zero-carbon emitter by 2030 has been launched.

Coinciding with first meeting of the next General Synod, the launch of the consultation seeks views from dioceses, the national church institutions, and cathedrals about the “route map” to net zero proposed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Although it sets out steps that churches, colleges, dioceses, and cathedrals can take to cut their emissions, the document says that the money to fund this work is not yet available.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, and the Bishop of Selby, Dr John Thomson, write in their introduction that there is much that the EWG does not yet know about how to reach net zero in the Church.

The 2030 target was set by the Synod last year, rejecting a more cautious approach that aimed for 2045 (News, 14 February 2020).

“All involved in drafting this consultation document are aware that it will require everyone — from parishes to dioceses to the national Church institutions — to think hard about what can and cannot be done,” the Bishops write.

They are not seeking to place demands on hard-pressed congregations, but to gather different views and gauge “what support is needed to make ambition into reality”.

“Synod has set an ambitious target, and this represents the next step in building consensus around a workable plan for the whole Church to meet that aim and to make the target possible,” Dr Thomson, who also chairs the Net Zero Working Group, said.

“We recognise this will be challenging, and there will be a financial cost; however, many adaptations can also be made simply and quickly, such as switching to a green energy provider, filling gaps in windows, and changing light bulbs, all of which can help to reduce energy costs.”

The route map includes measures to be taken at every level of the C of E, and sets interim targets.

For the national Church, the route map recommends reforms to faculty jurisdiction by next year to make it easier to make church buildings more environmentally friendly, as well as sweeping changes to central procurement through the Parish Buying scheme to enable churches to buy new boilers, solar panels, switch to renewable energy tariffs, and lease electric cars.

All cars bought for bishops, archdeacons, or diocesan car pools should also be electric by 2024, it says. Bishops’ premises are to have charging points by 2026 or the next vacancy if it comes before.

Dioceses will be asked to produce annual reports of their emissions to their diocesan synods by next year, and create a fully costed plan to achieve net zero. By 2023, their clergy housing should have been fully audited, and plans drawn up to retrofit them, where needed, to cut emissions.

There are also significant targets for churches and cathedrals. All are expected to have switched to a 100-per-cent renewable electricity tariff by 2023, and a year later to have moved to greener biogas for any gas-fired heating systems.

From 2025, no new oil boilers should be installed, and all churches and cathedrals should have energy efficient lighting, the paper says.

Tackling heating should be the main focus, as it amounts to 84 per cent of an average church’s energy usage. Switching to electric sources of heating, and moving on to a renewable tariff, would be enough to get most congregations nearly all the way to net zero.

There are also targets for signing up churches and cathedrals to A Rocha’s Eco Church schemes and begin working through the various levels to the gold award by 2029.

It is not just dioceses, churches, and cathedrals that are expected to reduce their emissions quickly, however: church schools are estimated to contribute 52 per cent of the C of E’s total emissions. They should all have decarbonisation plans by 2023, and have switched to renewable energy by 2025, the route map suggests.

The consultation acknowledges the cost of this: simply creating plans to eliminate emissions from heating schools (before any actual work takes place) will cost about £7 million, and electric heat pumps typically cost three to four times more than the gas or oil boilers that they replace.

The consultation also includes targets for retrofitting clergy housing and diocesan office space, including promoting home working to minimise emissions from commuting and energy consumption in buildings.

Theological colleges and courses will also be told to include environmental teaching in all syllabuses and formation criteria by 2023.

Throughout the route map is the admission that there is little money available to fund the programme of work that would be needed to reach net zero by 2030.

The report says that parish fund-raising will be crucial, but that the national church bodies are exploring other options, including donors, trusts, public grants, corporate donations, and loan finance.

The document also speaks of lobbying the Government to release public money for capital repairs to places of worship, which could cover decarbonisation measures.

The consultation will be open online until February. The responses will be used to draw up a final route map to 2030, which will be presented to, and debated by, the Synod next July.

Read more about the consultation, including how to respond, here

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