General Synod calls climate change 'a crisis for God's creation' as it votes to decarbonise the Church within 10 years
The Church of England has set its sights on becoming a net zero institution within the next decade, after its top decision makers yesterday agreed to draw up a radical action plan to slash emissions across its cathedrals, parishes, dioceses, and educational institutions.
Members of the Church's decision making body, the General Synod, narrowly voted in favour of adopting a revised 2030 net zero goal, in a surprise move that far outstrips the ambition in the motion's initial recommendation to target carbon neutrality by 2045.
The decision came at the General Synod's February 2020 meeting, which saw members debate whether to adopt the recommended 2045 target, or to support an amendment to bring forward the date by 15 years. The 2030 net zero goal won out, passing by 144 votes to 129 with 10 abstentions, according to the Church Times.
Following the debate, the Bishop of Salisbury Nick Holtam, the Church of England's lead bishop for the Environment, hailed the "ambitious" target to address the climate crisis, and praised members of the Synod for moving to "safeguard God's creation".
"To reach Synod's target of 2030 we will each need to hear this as an urgent call to action, but I am encouraged by the statement of intent this makes across the Church, and wider society about our determination to tackle Climate Change, and safeguard God's creation," he said.
The Bishop said the climate crisis was a social justice issue that most severely affected the world's poorest "and if the Church is to hold others to account, we have to get our own house in order".
"There is no serious doubt that climate change is happening, and that people are causing it, so it is very encouraging that Synod is grappling with the most urgent issues of our time," he added.
The final motion approved yesterday highlights climate change as "a crisis for God's creation", calling on all parts of the Church to work towards achieving year-on-year reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to "urgently examine what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030".
The Church's Environment Working Group and National Church Institutions, as well as every Diocesan Synod and cathedral body, must also all provide updates on progress towards the net zero goal every three years, the motion states.
The CofE owns and operates almost 40,000 buildings, and it is currently planning to launch a new energy rating system to help monitor their carbon footprint, which it hopes will help drive action towards net zero.
Last month CofE also announced plans to align its entire investment portfolio - which across three national investment bodies comprises around £12bn of assets - around net zero, joining an international grouping of organisations pledging to fully decarbonise their investment by 2050.
Patrick Watt, director of policy and campaigns at charity Christian Aid welcomed yesterday's decision, which he said demonstrated a long-term perspective "from which governments and business can learn".
"In this year of the UK hosting the crucial COP26 climate summit, the UK government is being seriously challenged by bold decisions like this," he argued. "Now politicians need to rise to the level of ambition set by the Church and implement policies that ensure the UK decarbonises its economy well before 2050 while also providing help to those around the world who are most affected by the climate crisis."
Watt added: "As Synod recognised, this will be a challenging target to meet and the Church will need to work hard to meet it, but it will be celebrated by vulnerable people on the front lines of the climate crisis who will see an institution taking the danger seriously and responding to it."
The move is the latest in a string of net zero commitments from organisations around the world, ranging from national governments and city authorities to corporate giants and religious bodies. The announcement came on the same day as oil giant BP became one of the largest fossil fuel companies to date to declare that it is aiming to reach net zero for its operations and production by 2050.
Writing on BusinessGreen today, Philip Dunne, MP, the new chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, argued pressure on the government and businesses to seize the opportunities that come with the net zero transition must not be relaxed.
"Arguably, the 'quick fixes' have already been done - the UK generated more power from renewables than non-renewables for the first time in 2019 and we are set to close all our coal power stations by 2024 - so in the next 30 years we must be innovative," he said. "Here lies a real opportunity for Britain. We have an abundance of talented innovators, scientists, technologists who could hold the key to unlocking major achievements in a green revolution, of which we have a rich history."
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