Practicality of net-zero targets in the Church of England

Whatever one’s views on the urgency of the climate crisis, it felt unsatisfactory that this was achieved through an amendment [from 2045 to 2030 as the target year] which was decided after less than ten minutes’ debate, by a majority of 15, with a turnout that meant fewer than a third of Synod members voted in favour of it”. 

The comments of The Rt  Rev David Walker, Bishop of Manchester on the Synod vote on 12 February 2020 are now of particular relevance following the first decision for a replacement heating system under the revised Faculty Jurisdiction Rules.


Most churches will be faced with the replacement of church heating systems in the short- to medium- term. Although issues relating to heating have been addressed by on a number of occasions, here, as from 1 July 2022, the Consistory Courts have been required to assess petitions on the basis of the Faculty Jurisdiction (Amendment) Rules 2022. The recently circulated case Re St. Saviour Croydon [2022] ECC Swk 5 is the first to be considered in relation to the new provisions. In brief, the churchwardens applied for an interim faculty for the replacement of the existing gas boiler of the Grade II Victorian church with a new gas boiler. The petitioners had considered an electric boiler, but had been advised by the DAC that the running costs would currently be four times the cost of running a gas boiler.

The Court’s considerations relating to St. Saviour Croydon are reviewed below. The more general issues raised will be considered in a later post.

Re St. Saviour Croydon [2022] ECC Swk 5

In the absence of an incumbent, the churchwardens of Holy Saviour, Croydon sought an interim faculty for the replacement of the existing gas boiler at the church with a new one; at the time, a petition had not been submitted to the Court, although the applicants had indicated their intention to do so [1].

“The parish encompasses an area of high deprivation…The western third of the church now provides church hall facilities, which are well used both by the congregation and the wider community. The church (including the hall facilities) is heated by a system relying on a gas boiler. This failed earlier in year and in the meantime the churchwardens and PCC have been investigating options for its replacement” [2].

Mindful of the aspiration of the Church of England generally to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 [and by 2035 in the Diocese of Southwark], the Petitioners’ initial preference was to replace the boiler with an electric one [3]. However, the DAC [“the Committee”] counselled caution [4]:

“[4]. The Committee does presently have some hesitancy about this solution. This kind of system, for the first few years of its life, will produce more carbon emissions overall, rather than fewer, until such time as the proportion of renewable energy in the national electricity supply increases sufficiently. This is because a significant portion of electricity to the National Grid is still being generated by power stations using fossil fuels.

In the long-term it will help move towards, and could theoretically help achieve, the target of net zero carbon by 2035 if electricity is bought on a green tariff. But, for so long as there is only a limited/partial supply of non-fossil-fuels energy to the National Grid, this merely means that there is less ‘green energy’ available for everyone else to use.”

 Petchey Ch. observed:

“[5]. It seems to me that the effect of these caveats is to indicate that the solution being pursued on the basis of its “greenness” was not as green as it might seem. However it is apparent that the caution of the DAC was primarily a concern about cost”.

The PCC revisited the matter, and after lengthy consideration it “regretfully concluded that it would not be able to afford the cost of running an electric boiler”. If an interim faculty were to be granted it would be comparatively simple for the new boiler to be installed and the church and hall could soon be heated. If an interim faculty is not granted (i.e.  had to wait until a “full” faculty) this would not occur until after Christmas at the earliest.

Petchey Ch. explained that in an appropriate case, the Court could grant an interim faculty, i.e. the authorization of the Court to undertake the works or part of the works before a “full” faculty is granted:

“[10]. It is appropriate in cases of urgency since otherwise any works that are carried out will lack authorization and thus be unlawful. It will usually only be appropriate to grant an interim faculty if the petitioners give an undertaking to modify or even to remove the works if subsequently required to do so by the Chancellor. If the Court did not require such an undertaking, it would mean that, if there were a subsequent objection, it could be rendered nugatory”.

After reviewing the law and guidance on the “net zero” objective [11] to [15], he noted [emphasis added]:

If it were easy to achieve carbon neutrality, the 2030 or 2035 targets would be met; indeed they would be bettered. However it is difficult and the reason it is difficult is that it is expensive. Many parishes have to work very hard in order to pay their parish share to the Diocese, and the ambition to achieve carbon neutrality is invariably a further financial burden. Accordingly decisions about “going green” are inevitably ultimately about money”,

and explained the rationale he had used in relation to faculty petitions which involved issues related to carbon neutrality [in relation to heating and floodlighting] [18]. He commented:

“[19]. I think that the amendment to the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules does affect the correctness of this approach. It seems to me that although the principal reason for the change to List B may be one of encouragement, if the change is to be meaningful, it must envisage circumstances in which the Consistory Court might refuse permission for replacement of gas boiler with, e.g., another gas boiler…

With regard to the issues raised by the instant case, he was satisfied that the Petitioners had carefully considered all the available options, he was not persuaded that in this case, there was an alternative at reasonable cost in this case to replacing the gas boiler with another gas boiler. He considered therefore that, on the face of it, it is appropriate for permission to be given to replace the existing gas boiler with a new gas boiler. Further,

“[21]. In these circumstances, it seems…that the urgency of the situation is a strong justification for granting an interim faculty. Against this should be set the consideration that, if the new boiler were once installed, there would have to be very strong reasons for taking it out again. In practical terms, it might be that an objector would be faced with a fait accompli.”

[22]. I think that it is necessary to be realistic about this. On the material before me, it is very difficult to imagine circumstances in which I might, on consideration of the petition for a “full” faculty require the Petitioners to fulfil their undertaking and remove the boiler. It would be remarkable if there were
any objections to the grant of the faculty.

As long as the Petitioners are aware of the risk – and it will be for them to assess it – from the point of view of the Court, it is sufficiently small so as not to make it inappropriate to grant an interim faculty. Although the jurisdiction to grant an interim faculty should be granted sparingly, it seems to me that this is an appropriate case to exercise it.

[23]. Accordingly I direct that an interim faculty should issue. This is subject to the Petitioners undertaking that, if required, they will modify or remove the works following consideration by the Court of a petition for “full” faculty.

Petchey Ch. also required the Petitioners to undertake that they would, as soon as possible, submit a petition for a “full” faculty; and, in any event, within 28 days of the date of this judgment [case footnote 18] .


Having granted an interim faculty [at 23], Petchey Ch. continued “[24]. This is not quite the end of the matter”, before exploring the more general issues raised in this and earlier cases: In In re St Thomas and St Luke, Dudley; In re St Peter Walsalland In re St Mary the Virgin, Dedham, (acknowledging that other Chancellors had disagreed with his approach).

As indicated in the introduction supra, these issues will be considered further in a later L&RUK post.

David Pocklington

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Practicality of net-zero targets in the Church of England" in Law & Religion UK, 29 November 2022,


2 thoughts on “Practicality of net-zero targets in the Church of England

  1. Good that the Chancellor has exposed the reality behind buying green electricity – only a certain amount is being produced, and buying it or not doesn’t increase supply.

    • Indeed. The point has been raised on an earlier occasion – again by Petchey Ch. if I remember correctly. A corollary to this is whether those churches claiming to have “net zero” emissions do so on the basis of “green” electricity or gas, and whether these claims have been subject to external verification – an essential component for those industries subject to legally binding carbon reduction targets.

      On checking, it was Petchey Ch. in Re St. Michael & All Angels Blackheath Park [2020] ECC Swk 1, who said:

      [13]. “… purchasing on a green tariff does not mean that the electricity is generated sustainably but that its consumption is matched by the purchase of renewable energy used elsewhere in the system. This is not quite a distinction without a difference because there is a finite amount of energy generated by renewables which will always go to reduce the proportion of electricity generated by non-renewables. Thus the DAC advise me that the floodlighting will deplete the total amount of renewable energy available to the National Grid. Whether this does or does not add to the carbon footprint would seem to depend on whether at all relevant times there is in the National Grid a surplus of non-renewable energy”.

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