THE Governing Body voted unanimously to endorse the set of measures and approaches set out in its Framework document on the climate emergency, and to urge its adoption at all levels of the Church.
The document is a response to the Net Zero Carbon challenge which the Church in Wales aspires to meet by 2030. The challenges are nowhere underestimated. “We will need to decarbonise virtually all our heating systems, and we admit that we do not have all the answers. What we do know is that Net Zero Carbon is the future and doing nothing is not an option,” the document emphasises.
“We acknowledge that the challenge may seem overwhelming by its sheer enormity and leave us deflated by not knowing where to start; yet we hope that by setting out in this document, gradual and manageable steps, the goal will be less daunting and more attainable.”
It also acknowledges that, owing to the independence of decision-making bodies in the Church in Wales, and the dynamic and rapidly changing low-carbon context, the Framework cannot realistically be a fully costed and detailed plan.
The Church in Wales committed itself last year to disinvesting from fossil-fuel production and supply by the end of 2021, and to reaching net zero carbon as soon as practically possible, with a target date of 2030. Thirteen per cent of churches have so far registered with Eco Church, and the dioceses of St Asaph and Llandaff have achieved Bronze status.
Total carbon emitted by the Church in Wales is listed as approximately 19,150 tonnes per annum. Buildings account for its most significant operational energy use: churches emit 53 per cent of those emissions, and parsonages a further 27 per cent. The whole Church must be “active participants” to enable emissions to be reduced by the 20 per cent necessary year on year to reach net zero, the document says: “We need to start immediately.”
The document recognises churches to be unique among historic properties: “Often draughty, poorly insulated and high-ceilinged with large internal spaces and used for only a few hours a week and on occasions, only on a Sunday. Churches are difficult to heat therefore.
“Also, many of our places of worship are off the National Grid, in rural settings, and rely on oil as their heating source. They require a different decarbonisation approach to other historic buildings, which are either occupied constantly and or open to the public throughout the week.”
It does not help, the Framework says, that much of the current emphasis on low-carbon technology focuses on heat pumps. “From the sample energy audits we have undertaken to date, it is clear that heat pumps will be suitable in only a minority of church buildings.” It also points out that heating engineers perceive the installation of a new fossil-fuel boiler to be the easiest option.
There are three immediate recommendations: the first, to train people well to understand Net Zero, which “can appear highly technical, its language bewildering and its application to church life rather abstract”. Net-zero training, known as “carbon literacy” training, would be offered to churchpeople chosen to disseminate it.
Energy audits are the second recommendation. The third is that all churches and cathedrals should measure energy well, using the online Energy Footprint Tool. The Framework will be regularly reviewed and updated in the light of new and better information.
Chairing the debate, Dr Heather Payne (Llandaff) urged the Governing Body to think about the way forward as “a process of co-production. . . We need to go with what is realistic, what we can actually do to make a difference . . . use this approach to live out our values as a Church.”
The Bishop of St Davids, Dr Joanna Penberthy, moving the motion, emphasised: “We are not in the field of aspirations or hope or wishes . . . [it is about] how to put these into action in the areas for which we have responsibility.” The Framework was a working document, constantly being updated and renewed, and a means of holding the Church accountable.
“We are a community of faith: our response to the climate emergency is not just rooted in science but in stewardship,” she said. “This is a very practical document . . . a timely motion which has been very well prepared. You will be committing us to action, showing that in the Church in Wales we take the creation we live in and know to be part of God’s economy very seriously.”
Group work and feedback before the vote was taken was facilitated by Alex Glanville, head of property services, and Julia Edwards, climate-change champion. Groups’ expressed concerns included how to incentivise people at local level; the availability of trainers with regard to the first recommendation; where the money was to come from to meet the full list of actions; the challenge of motivation and congregational giving; “the conflict between what we would like to do and what we can do”; timescales; and how to give a voice to young people — “who are really energised over climate issues”.
Daniel Priddy (St Davids) seconded the motion. “We are embracing the Framework, not just accepting it. I encourage you to empower the people. There are challenges, but it is a journey we need to take.”
Ian Hibble (Llandaff) urged churches to consider who they banked with, given that the biggest banks had given £111 billion to fossil fuels. “We need to consider issues around procurement and not bank with those investors in fossil fuels. It needs to be included within this framework.”
The Revd Steven Bunting (Swansea & Brecon) drew attention to the parish buying scheme for energy. The Revd Miriam Beecroft (Bangor) was exercised about the “shedloads of paper” on the tables of the meeting, and why the Governing Body had returned to meeting in person: “We need to restructure the pattern and regularity of our meetings,” she said. The Revd Dr Adrian Morgan (Co-opted) noted the cycle-to-work scheme offered by employers, and wondered whether it could be implemented for the clergy.
The vote was carried nem. con. The motion reads:
That the Governing Body (i) endorse the Framework for Net Zero Carbon, subject to the key points from group work, and (ii) urge all levels of the Church to embrace and adopt the Framework to enable us to realise our net zero carbon emissions.