Shrinking the vision on emissions?

General Synod and the London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion 

At General Synod in York, the afternoon of Sunday 8 July was given over to three debates relating to “the Church and the World”, viz. Climate Change and Investment; Environment Programmes; and the Ethics of Nuclear Weapons. Of these, the Church issued Press Releases on the climate change and on nuclear disarmament debates. No vote was taken on the proposed London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion (*the Diocesan Motion”), and the debate was adjourned until the sessions in London in February 2019. However, this is an area in which there is potential for engagement of the everyday membership of the Church; furthermore, it raises the issues of the relative importance of the different components of the Church’s carbon footprint, and the Church’s continued commitment to meet/demonstrate the 80% reduction in its emissions.

Whereas the Oxford diocese amendment urged the National Investment Bodies (NIBs):

“to divest from any fossil fuel company which is not on an unequivocal path by 2020 to aligning its business investment plan with the Paris Agreement to restrict global warming to well below 2°C” (GS Misc 1196),

the London/Truro Diocesan Synod Motion indicated that the Church is not currently in a position to set an unequivocal path to the measurement of its own emissions on a national basis by 2020.


The relevant background papers are to be found on the Church’s web page July 2018 Group of Sessions, and  Order Paper III which relates to the afternoon debates. The review on Thinking Anglicans provides details of the motions passed/discussed and links to the video of the proceedings, the report by Steve Lynas, and media reaction. The proposed London/Truro Motion was detailed in GS 2094A – Environmental Programmes with a background note from the Secretary General in GS 2094B – Environment Programmes. In its review of Synod proceedings, the Church Times published environment programmes debate

Church of England and Carbon Emissions

The Church of England has the potential to mitigate its carbon emissions directly through measures aimed at the day-to-day operation of its churches and the management of its estate, and indirectly through its investment and purchasing policies. It has been engaged in the reduction of the carbon footprint since 2005, and the key events highlighted by the Diocesan motion include:

With regard to the Church’s own emissions, the London/Truro Diocesan Motion comments [emphasis added]:

“[9]. …It has been claimed [reference 11, citing L&RUK here and here] 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 Background Paper from the Secretary General describes these early initiatives as: “[a] variety of successful energy measurement and monitoring schemes are active in dioceses and two approaches have been trialled in auditing at national level”, but admits that insufficient thought had been given to setting the targets [emphasis added]:

“[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.”

It continues:

“[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”.

This diverse range of actions is described in the report of the Environmental Working Group, produced in 2017 and covering its activities in the previous three years. The five objectives listed in the Report are: emphasise creationtide as integral to the CofE’s liturgical practice; engage with congregations and those responsible for buildings re environment and biodiversity issues; support clergy and Diocesan Environmental Officers (DEOs) in their engagement with environmental issues especially through ministry training and dioceses; develop ecumenical and interfaith links; improve communication on CofE environmental issues with and beyond National Church Institutions.


On reviewing the Church’s approach to carbon reduction in 2012, [my LLM dissertation “The role of religion in the development of environmental legislation], I noted that the CofE appeared to be on course to monitoring and reducing its own emissions, but raised a note of caution:

“Whilst Shrinking the Footprint provides an overarching framework for addressing environmental issues, the autonomy of the dioceses has resulted in several different approaches to meeting its targets and to how these issues are addressed within the diocese”.

This is evident from the Synod papers. With regard to the other components of its carbon footprint:

“Investments have long been subject to ethical considerations, and the higher public profile of environmental issues has led to a growth in ‘green’ or ‘socially responsible investment, (SRI)’ opportunities. There are, however, a number of misconceptions regarding their use and effectiveness, which it is necessary for the Church to take into consideration.

The control of its land and other assets should be more straightforward, but this too can cause problems if handled insensitively [i.e. experience with wind turbines in the Exeter diocese].

Six years later, significant progress has been made by the National Investment Bodies and these are widely acknowledged to have “put themselves at the forefront of global investor action on climate change, including via engagement, (GS 2093). However, with regard to the Church’s own emissions, the London/Truro Diocesan Motion comments “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.

Read together, the Diocesan Motion and the Background Paper highlight the problems associated with this aspect of the Church’s environmental initiatives: the former outlines the present inability to demonstrate carbon reduction; and the latter queries the establishment of the 80% carbon reduction target, and casts doubt on the finance and resources available for establishing a monitoring scheme.

Future progress on carbon emissions is dependent upon the Church’s allocation of finance, resources, and securing the necessary commitment at parish and diocesan level. However, it will not be until early next year before it is known whether funding can be made available.

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.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Shrinking the vision on emissions?" in Law & Religion UK, 16 July 2018,

2 thoughts on “Shrinking the vision on emissions?

  1. It is worth recording that in proposing the procedural motion to adjourn the debate on the London/Truro DSM until the group of sessions in London in February 2019, Adrian Greenwood (Southwark) said that “more time is needed to enable Synod to know clearly what we are asking people to do.” The original diocesan motion, at para (e) “call[ed] on the Archbishops’ Council urgently to assess and furnish such human and financial resources as may be proper and necessary to enable the work in (d) above.”

    Comment in the debate was that the Archbishops’ Council could not prudently furnish such resources (with the budgetary implications) before assessing what may be required. Hence, before the debate on the motion was adjourned, Synod passed an amendment so that para (e) now reads, “… to assess what human and financial resources would be required to enable the work in (d) above, and to report this back at the February 2919 group of sessions.”

    A consequence of adjourning the debate on the motion as so amended is that the Archbishops’ Council has not been called on by Synod to carry out that assessment, but it is clear from what John Spence (chairman of the Finance Committee) said in the debate that he is committed to the Council providing the required data to Synod in time to inform the debate when it resumes in February 2019.

  2. Pingback: Towards net zero carbon for churches | Law & Religion UK

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