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Scottish Episcopal Synod: Reaching net zero by 2030 will not be easy, members told

17 June 2022

Scottish Episcopal Church

Robert Woodford

Robert Woodford

THE challenges that the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) faces in combating the climate crisis were discussed on Friday, after a presentation by the Provincial Environment Group (PEG).

The Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, the Rt Revd Ian Paton, who convenes the group, said that the “havoc” caused by the pandemic “will pale when compared to that caused by climate change”.

Robert Woodford, a member of the PEG, delivered a presentation explaining the challenges of reducing emissions. In 2020, the Synod set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030 (News, 11 December 2020).

Mr Woodford described the target as ambitious, and said: “We need to be realistic about the challenges ahead.” He set out some of the particular challenges that, he sid, the SEC faced: large buildings that are rarely used, tight finances, and the Scottish climate.

The size and terrain of Scotland were also mentioned in contributions from the floor. Canon Vittoria Hancock (Aberdeen & Orkney) and the Bishop of Argyll & The Isles, Dr Keith Riglin, both spoke of the necessity of having a car powered by fossil fuels, when electric vehicles were impractical, owing to the distances that had to be travelled, the challenges of the terrain in parts of the country, and the lack of charging infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the PEG conducted research using the Energy Footprint Analyser, helping churches to calculate their carbon footprint. Twenty-seven per cent of churches returned results, allowing the PEG to calculate a rough baseline to help inform the progress needed to reach net zero by 2030.

Analysis of the results showed that eight per cent of churches were technically already net zero, although this took into account only buildings, and not other emissions produced, for example, in travel or supply chains.

At the start of the Synod meeting, the PEG had put up a small display near the entrance to the refreshment room. Members were encouraged to leave feedback on a flipchart, and several comments noted the complexity of the energy audit.

In his presentation, Mr Woodford thanked the treasurers of the churches that had responded for their hard work in providing the documentation needed to calculate emissions levels.

“We need a full-scale transformation of the infrastructure of the SEC from one based on fossil fuels to one powered by zero-carbon energy within seven-and-a-half years,” he said. “By focusing in the immediate term on increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings, you will cut rocketing energy bills, end our reliance on fossil fuels, and lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

“But it is important to also acknowledge that this is not about raw carbon-emission numbers alone, but also about how our buildings are used. Increasing building utilisation will be paramount in order to enable our net zero strategy to support the broader mission of the Church.”

Mr Woodford encouraged members to adopt “cathedral thinking” in their approach to the climate crisis. The scale of the challenge required the kind of intergenerational ambition, planning, and faith that previous generations had shown in the building of cathedrals.

Cathy Johnston, the vice-convener of the PEG, urged members to be ambassadors in their churches, and to engage with the consultation on a pathway to net zero. The SEC, she said, was planning to work in partnership with the Church of England, and to make use of its energy footprint tool.

Bishop Paton concluded the presentation by saying that climate change was not merely a secular challenge, “but one that goes to the core of our faith and spirituality. As small people taking small steps in small places, keep on doing all that you are, and more, and have courage, because God is with us.”

Click here for more coverage of the SEC synod

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