Measuring the Footprint, Delivering the ambition?

The continued debate on the London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion

We reported on the three debates at the General Synod in York on 8 July last year relating to “the Church and the World”: Climate Change and Investment; Environment Programmes; and the Ethics of Nuclear Weapons. No vote was taken on the proposed London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion (DSM), and the debate was adjourned until the sessions in London in February 2019. This post provides an update in advance of the resumption of this debate, which will take place on the morning of Friday 22 February.

The DSM Motion

The London/Truro DSM on environmental programmes was explained in document GS 2094A; additionally, there was a background note from the Secretary General, GS 2094B – Environment Programmes. In the July 2018 debate, two amendments to the original motion were passed: to adopt a flexible approach to tools for measuring CO2 emissions, (d) (ii); and to allow the Archbishops’ Council time to assess the human and financial resource required to enable the work, (e).

The January 2019 update of the DSM, GS Misc 1212, gives a brief summary of the need for and the provisions of the motion. It refers to the debate last year and provides an update on developments since then; it also comments on some of the issues raised in the earlier debate and concludes with reasons why the motion should be agreed. The Secretary General has also produced a revised Background Paper, GS 2094 Revised.

The motion is to be debated on 22 February 2019 and provides for: a plan of action; measuring and reporting progress; and every diocese to have an environment programme headed by a member of the Bishop’s staff team. Modest extra funding is required to achieve these objectives.

Developments since July 2018

There have been a number of important developments since the July debate. GS Misc 1212 comments:

  • It has become clear that action on climate change is more urgent than ever. In its report in October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the most urgent and far-reaching call yet for world governments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Staff from Church House in Westminster in conjunction with the Environmental Working Group have been considering the human and financial resources they would require to put the provisions of the motion into effect, including giving some support to dioceses. This is detailed in the Secretary General’s revised Background Paper, GS 2094 Revised.
  • In November 2018, Truro Diocese conducted a trial data collection exercise. The Truro DEO wrote to all parish treasurers to request details of energy use from their church bills for 2017. There was a 43% response rate. The most frequently occurring time people took to complete the survey was 5 minutes. The request for the energy information was also very useful in sparking interest in taking action to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental improvements.

Other developments, not specifically covered in the recent Synod papers, include:

  • In the debate on Climate Change and Investment, last July, General Synod showed its eagerness to exert pressure on major companies to take action on climate change by moving towards a low carbon economy. The Church Commissioners have been heavily engaged in this area, including considerations of the Transition Pathway Initiative, climate change engagement and low carbon investment. In response to a question regarding progress since July 2018 with the Transition Pathways Initiative in supporting the transition to a low carbon economy and to the National Investing Bodies’ climate strategy, Loretta Minghella, replying as First Church Estates Commissioner, informed the February Synod [Q 28]:

“287 companies have now been assessed against the TPI methodology, which is now supported by investors with $12 trillion of assets. TPI is now a core benchmarking tool for the Climate Action 100+ engagement initiative which is backed by investors with $32 trillion of assets. Through TPI and engagement, the Church’s national investing bodies are at the forefront of investor activity to promote the urgent transition towards temperatures well below 2 degrees (in line with the Paris Agreement). Key recent engagement achievements include Shell agreeing to establish rolling targets to halve its net carbon footprint by 2050 and BP agreeing to align its capital expenditure with the goals of the Paris Agreement

  • In response to a question regarding progress since July 2018 on the development plan for the Church of England Environment Programme (CoEEP); and its alignment to the Five Marks of Mission, Mark Sheard, as Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, informed the February Synod, [Q 18]:

“The Environment Working Group is about to publish its new Three Year Action Plan which was informed by the issues raised at the July synod and includes some 19 actions detailed within the Five Marks of Mission. The plan features potential partners, the actions to be taken during 2019, targets by 2022 and who leads”

  • Secretary General’s Background Paper concludes: “Resourcing of this will depend on the outcome of the Synod debate/and discussions in the Council about budget priorities, and possible offsetting reductions in work elsewhere”. However, the sums associated with the London/Truro DSM appear to be small in comparison with other items of CofE expenditure.

The DSM and the February Synod

The London/Truro DSM presented to General Synod last year stated [emphasis added]:

“It has been claimed [by L&RUK] that the CoE ‘makes no reference to how much savings (of energy and carbon emissions) have been made to date’. That might seem unfair, bearing in mind the studies just referenced – but we are at present unready to update them with regular nationwide measurements. The audits in 2007 and 2012/13 were performed on different bases, and they were several years apart.

To make a proper assessment of the trend, figures are needed on the same basis each year. Reports need to demonstrate progress towards our ambitious targets. Any level of ambition requires measurement and verification to sustain credibility. But to reach 2020 without a way to ascertain progress towards our public targets would entail a risk to the Church’s reputation, potentially even to the reputation of the Gospel”. 

The reference to our criticism relates to the situation in 2015; the DSM appears to accept that the situation regarding the lack of quantification remains applicable in 2019. In a welcome development, a revised Background Paper described the work that the Archbishops’ Council has undertaken on the human and financial resources that would be required to enable work in part (d) of the DSM motion. In particular, it describes the initial scoping on a “National Carbon Footprint tool to help parishes improve efficiency, save money & measure themselves against others without adding to volunteer workload”.

It notes that to achieve this “there would be a need for some programming to alter existing questions and redesign an existing portal. Progressing the work in this way would mean that costs (estimated at c. £10,000) would be significantly lower than the amount needed to create a new system. Options for applying for external grant funding for these costs are being explored but if no external funding is achieved this cost would need to be funded from the Council’s existing resources”.

In addition, it proposes “An Intelligent Client Service Agreement to provide expert building performance/M & E [undefined, but presumably “Mechanical and Electrical”] advice”. “The estimated costs for an initial bank of 25 days is £10,000. Options for applying for external grant funding for these costs are being explored but if no external funding is achieved this cost would need to be funded from the Council’s existing resources”.

However, two concerning aspects remain within the revised Background Paper [our emphasis]:

“10. Whilst the 80% reduction commitment – set in line with Government targets and approved by Synod – was put in place with the best intentions at the time, it was instigated without a full understanding of the resource implications and diffuse nature of the Church of England as an institution.

11. The Environmental Working Group has concluded that the limited resources available to the environmental programme are best used in promoting a diverse range of actions so that every church has an opportunity to engage – from churchyard biodiversity and community food-growing projects to renewable energy and political climate campaigning.”


From its mission statement on climate change and the environment, it is clear where the Church of England stands.

In relation to its investments, it is clear what the Church requires of others.

What the February General Synod must decide on Friday is how climate change issues are addressed internally.

David Pocklington

As Director, Industry Affairs, Mineral Products Association, David was responsible for industry compliance with UK and EU legislation on carbon emissions, and the development of its externally-verified sustainability programme. 


The text of the motion in GS 2111 shows it as amended form, immediately before the carrying of the motion for the Adjournment of Debate at the July 2018 group of sessions.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Measuring the Footprint, Delivering the ambition?" in Law & Religion UK, 19 February 2019,

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