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  • Writer's pictureIan Sutton

Church of England: Carbon Neutral by 2030

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Church of England sets ambitious Net Zero climate goals at the 2020 Synod.
Church of England Synod 2020. Credit: Church Times.

One of the themes of this site is that we need to be specific about our climate goals. General statements of good intent are not enough. We need quantitative targets with deadlines, accompanied by a clear understanding as to the resources that are needed to reach those goals. In other words,

What gets measured gets done.

Going through some of my files to do with Net Zero programs, I ran across a news item from the Anglican Church Times dated February 2020. The article reports that the Church Synod aims for the Anglican Church to be ‘carbon-neutral’ by the year 2030, just nine years from now. The article reports out a statement from Bishop Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment,

The Church had to introduce a staged process with individual marking points. This is a game-changer. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but that is what we have agreed. . . We will come back in 2022. . . It is a very tall order you have set yourselves.

The key phrase in the above statement is, “I don’t know how we are going to do it”. If the church is to call on its parishioners to meet such an extraordinarily ambitious goal then it needs to provide specific, quantifiable targets, accompanied by a clear description of the resources needed to reach those targets.

It’s great that the church is setting such an ambitious target, but what does it mean at 8 o’clock on Monday morning? Clear goals need to address questions such as,

  • How do we measure emissions now?

  • How do we define “carbon-neutral” for a local parish church or for a youth group’s mission trip?

  • How do we align the aspirational goal of ‘carbon-neutral by 2030’ with the structured guidance such as that provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol is needed.

Bishop Holtam feared that pushing parishes around the country to be net zero by 2030 would cause resentment.

He feared that pushing parishes around the country to be net zero by 2030 would cause resentment.

This a huge understatement. After all, if a parish church is to meet the target it probably means that all parishioners would have to stop driving to church. Even if they drive an electrically-powered vehicle or take public transport to church services they would have to account for their Scope 2 emissions. If the church buildings are heated by a gas furnace or boiler how can it cut its Scope 1 emissions to zero and still keep the parishioners and visitors warm? How can it keep the lights turned on and meet its Scope 2 targets?

The above critique of the Synod’s call for action (formalized in Resolutions A17.05 and A17.06) highlights the magnitude of the church’s call for action. But implementing a program such as this will also help the church to provide meaningful leadership to society at large. We will keep an eye on how the church is doing in its efforts to meet the very challenging goal that it has set for itself.

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