Synod endorsement for “net zero” plan

On 8 July 2022, General Synod considered the Church’s plans to assist the 16,000 local churches and 4,500 schools reach carbon net zero by the end of the decade. These plans were announced on 23 June 2022 and are summarized here. The Church has now issued a Press Release on the outcome of the debate, Synod endorses plan to reach net zero carbon by 2030, and extracts of the agreed motion, and the £30M funding for to initiate a net zero programme 2023-2025, are reproduced here.  

The Church’s plans were reviewed in “Net zero”, church heating, and the consistory courts – IV, in which we noted that the Executive Summary of the Routemap indicated that whilst all 42 dioceses have registered for Eco Dioceses, since 2020 only 29 Diocesan Synods have passed a motion committing to net zero carbon. [For comparison, in 2012 it was estimated that the level of “buy-in” at diocesan level to the Church and Earth 2009-2016 initiative was about 45 %]. Furthermore, as of 22 November 2021, 3,600 churches had submitted data to the Energy Footprint Toll, of which 250 (or 7 per cent) reported net zero carbon (or lower) emissions. The closing date for submission of the 2021 data is 31 July 2022.

The Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich and lead Bishop for the Environment, said:

“The 2030 target is hugely ambitious, but the process is as important as the target…The Routemap before you has been refined in consultation. It’s a pragmatic, it’s a step-by-step approach. “It charts the territory into an unknown landscape, with the best knowledge that we currently have. “But no doubt it will need to flex and adapt as the wider picture changes in the coming years.

As part of this pragmatic approach, the plans indicate:

  • “the focus of the actions is on high-energy-consuming buildings, not the smaller less frequently used buildings that already have a very low carbon footprint. For example, a typical small church, not used every day, has an annual carbon footprint of significantly less than an average UK household”.
  • “over the duration of a Quinquennium and from 2022, all cathedrals and the top 20% of energy-consuming churches to develop net zero carbon action plans for completion by no later than 2027. These should include, as a minimum, low-carbon heating options to replace fossil-fuel heating at end-of-life, such as heat pumps or far infra-red heating panels. The Action Plan should also contain a Heating Resilience Plan which should consider how to manage heat should the existing system fail, to avoid needing a quick like-for-like fossil-fuel replacement.

Furthermore, the Press Release stated that the Routemap “is not legislative and does not obligate any part of the Church, subject to its approval by Synod, [it] will form the basis of the road to net zero carbon by 2030“. Primarily, it is intended for an internal audience, particularly those able to effect change; it is not intended for an external audience, except for those organisations that are working closely with us to effect positive environmental change.


This more pragmatic approach to the reduction of the Church’s carbon emissions is to be welcomed; the Diocese of Oxford’s recently updated Environmental Policy acknowledges that there is further work to be done on the development national and local baselines, net zero targets and the associated guidance; this will require a greater “buy-in” at parish and diocesan level. Whilst the present approach appears to preclude the possibility of the external verification of the carbon reductions achieved, this may be introduced at a later stage, identified in the Plan for 2028 the document  [at 7.1.5.]:


Premier Christian reported that a group of Christian climate protesters interrupted proceedings at the meeting of General Synod in York on Friday, urging the Church to end its financial backing of the fossil fuel industry. A Church spokesperson said:

“The Church of England’s National Investing Bodies have taken the view that they have more influence on high-carbon industries by being in the room rather than by disinvesting. By engaging with high-carbon-emitting companies, we can address the climate crisis and bring about real-world change.

Our engagement is not open-ended, and we are explicit that we will disinvest from companies that are not responsive to engagement by 2023. The strategy is making significant progress, with 20 companies having made climate-related changes to stay off our restricted list since 2020.”

Furthermore, account should be taken of the magnitude of the Church’s GHG emissions (and their impact) which is small, at even national level compared with these high-carbon-emitting companies; its total emissions constitute less than 0.05% of those of the United Kingdom, which themselves are one hundred times smaller in global terms.

David Pocklington

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Synod endorsement for “net zero” plan" in Law & Religion UK, 11 July 2022,


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