Last week I was at Lambeth Palace for the launch of a new Church of England resource on caring for the environment. In his opening remarks, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby mentioned that the church’s synod was coming up this week, and that they would be voting on a 2045 carbon target. He said that he had asked if it could be brought forward, and the suggestion had been politely laughed off.
Yesterday that vote happened, and the church did not vote for a 2045 target. An amendment was brought by the Diocese of Bristol that called for more ambition and set a 2030 date instead. The motion and the amendment passed, which means that all parts of the church must acheive year on year carbon reductions, aiming to reach net zero by 2030.
The target is for the whole of the Church of England, including its churches and cathedrals, charities, schools and offices. It will not be easy. As we’ve discussed before, old church buildings are very hard to heat, and the church may have some difficult decisions to make in the coming years.
However, it’s absolutely right that the church takes ambitous action and shows real leadership. The church hasn’t always been on the right side of history when it comes to social justice questions, and many – myself included – have been frustrated at how slowly the church has come round to climate change.
A great many people have had a role in this vote, through patient advocacy, divestment campaigns and leadership at the lcoal level. Protest has also played a role in sharpening their focus. I’m a member of Christian Climate Action, who staged a memorial service outside the synod yesterday for those who had died as a result of climate change. Every member of the synod was invited to it, and those that did were given pots of snowdrops to take into the session. Each pot had a message on it written by a child at a CofE school in Lewes, encouraging them to act.
Rev Helen Burnett, who led the service yesterday, reflects on the vote: “This morning when we gathered, dressed in the black of mourning to find we were barred from Deans Yard and the iconic entrance to Church House, forced to regroup by the roadworks in Great Smith St, it was hard to imagine that our words and music might touch the hearts of synod delegates, but as they accepted snowdrops and acknowledged our witness it felt like change might be possible.”
“I was back in the parish by the time I heard that the 2030 amendment had passed. This is joy to all those at the grassroots who are setting out on the journey to a more sustainable way of living. Now it is for the whole church to support synod in making the dramatic, sometimes sacrificial changes necessary to achieve net zero and begin the journey towards climate justice.”