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Diocesan Synod Report 2014 on the Environment and Sustainability

This page reproduces the progress report on the Environment and Sustainability to Diocesan Synod on 17 July 2014, by the Head of Environment and Sustainability.

Presentation of the report was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, which can be downloaded from the foot of this page.

Whatever Next?

It is two years since a report on the environment was delivered to Synod. Much has happened since, including achievements, disappointments and challenges. So where do we go from here?

As usual this report will briefly survey the scene locally in the Diocese and in London, and also nationally and worldwide. There is only space here for a selection of topics and issues – while leaving time at the meeting for questions and discussion.

Among the more visible achievements of recent years are the solar panels which have been installed on some 25 churches, halls, parsonages, almshouses and schools around the Diocese. The panels on the roof of the listed church of St Mary Islington can just be glimpsed above the parapet (see Solar panels). These were actually installed in 2011 – there have been more since. Less celebrated but at least as significant has been the completion of a full round of parsonage home energy surveys and upgrades.

Environmentally conscious developments include new church and school buildings, for example the St Paul’s Centre in Hammersmith (picture above) with its geothermal piles; and BREEAM Very Good being the typical standard for new schools such as Millbrook Park Primary (LDB Academies Trust/ London Borough of Barnet, opening September 2014), with both photovoltaic and solar-thermal panels built into its planning permission. St Paul’s Cathedral itself is setting itself new standards with ground-source heating incorporated in the refurbishment of the Chapter House, now under weigh.

Capital Vision 2020

The environment is a cross-cutting issue, interfacing with many of our activities and ambitions as a Diocese. In the postcard issued when CV2020 was launched, with ‘reasons to celebrate’ which included energy savings up to 2011, it was also noted that “In a universal city, we have learned that we are part of creation – instead of adding to human burdens on creation, we must participate in God’s plan to redeem it.” The environment as God’s creation also finds expression in two specific CV2020 objectives, under the ‘Compassionate’ theme – Route 2050 which is our comprehensive campaign to help tackle climate change; and Churchyards for London which is concerned with wildlife and biodiversity.

Nevertheless, it was disappointing to report that our target of 20.12% savings in energy and carbon by 2012 was not met. In fact our churches lost ground from 2011 to 2012, when savings since 2005 fell sharply from 21.7% to 10.5% in energy, and 14.9% to 2.4% in carbon emissions. This result ran strongly counter to a sustained trend of improvement in most other years (all except 2009). There are reasons to think that ‘the wrong kind of bad weather’ made a big contribution in 2009 and 2012, but there is also a more positive and less weasely explanation – we are using our churches more for mission, so of course the lights and the heating are switched on more of the time. We need to improve our analysis of how growth is managed in a resource efficient and energy-sparing manner, so that our overall environmental and climate impact is returned to its downward curve.

Indeed that favourable curve has been more than maintained for London Diocesan House. A question on Synod in 2010 enquired whether we could improve on the elective Display Energy Certificate Band C which had then just been issued. In 2014 we have been able to declare that Diocesan House has become net carbon neutral for fuel and power, after purchase of green electricity from Good Energy, and offsetting gas use by planting about 40 trees each year from 2014 on (one for every day in Lent!), as part of the Woodland Trust’s Heartwood Forest.

Energy-saving Benchmarking

Now is the time to re-launch the Diocese’s Climate Action Programme, and to inspirit it with renewed motivation and vigour. We have booked the Wren Suite in St Paul’s for an exciting event on the evening of Tuesday 16 September, titled ‘Modelling the New Creation’.

Our Energy-saving Benchmarking scheme will be central to our efforts. This is vital to tracking the performance of church premises in their energy consumption and carbon emissions – critically, not divorcing these from how the church is using its plant for worship and mission. We won’t understand the overall trend till correctly we do this. We cannot pursue a one size fits all policy, in which everyone must deliver the same savings. Churches with more growth, more activity, more mission, should be recognised as such! Our benchmarking scheme does this, adjusting grades and setting a site-specific target for energy and emissions to reflect the church’s intensity of use. Undertaking such an analysis can help a church audit its activities and premises needs as well as its energy efficiency. This can contribute to delivering a Mission Action Plan (or applying for a faculty), as well as that church’s proper contribution to the whole diocese’s efforts to reduce our harmful impacts on climate and the environment.

Already more than 20% of churches have taken part in energy-saving benchmarking, but we still need to roll it out much wider. Our ambition should be 100% coverage. The system has been improved and extended now so that it can benchmark water efficiency, waste and recycling as well as energy and carbon. It is also applicable to a wider range of uses on site – now covering worship, community uses, office space and catering such as a crypt café, medical facilities, nurseries or primary schools, and residential accommodation such as a clergy flat. We have begun piloting the extended system in the Two Cities (where our original programme of Environmental Audits began in 2009).

Wildlife and biodiversity

Our Churchyards for London programme now constitutes a major part of our environmental efforts as a diocese. We are conducting it across 98% of Great London, in partnership with Southwark, Chelmsford and Rochester Dioceses.

The first phase, in progress for more than a year already, is called Churchyards Ecology Survey. Following an extensive desk survey and sampling exercise, our appointed Consultant Ecologists have been engaged in visiting a smaller sample since last year. Interim reports for the churches visited in 2013 are being prepared. This turns out to be a more lengthy process than was envisaged! (There have also been visits by a lichenologist from the British Lichen Society, and sound recordings of birds and bats by a student from UCL.) We are now targeting fundraising for further tranches of visits.

The second phase of Churchyards for London, beginning in 2015 and overlapping remaining survey visits, will apply the lessons learned in the survey phase. It will have three themes, their purposes self-explanatory:

  • Churchyards for communities
  • Churchyards and heritage
  • Churchyards for biodiversity.

Motivation and commitment

Actions speak louder than words. We seek to match our declared commitment to the environment with action, although motivation is hard to sustain against a refractory political and cultural background; and we do need to re-energise. We may even need something of a culture shift of our own if we are to rise adequately to the challenge. Church people are still people, after all.

Much of the challenge is how best to frame and communicate our messages, both internally and externally. A review has begun, supported by ‘Endless Possibilities’ – an appropriately positive name for our task – as well as that of the agency for creative change and communication, with whom we are working. Outputs should emerge later in 2014.

Environmental Consultative Forum

We also propose, in place of our Environmental Steering Group, a new and broader Consultative Forum, drawing from all round the Diocese, to share insights on how the whole diocese, parishes and people can be inspired to give new impetus to our work of caring for the environment which is God’s creation. It is envisaged that the group might meet about three times annually. Outputs from Endless Possibilities should feed into it. The result we hope will yield a fertile source of new ideas and stimuli for every deanery and parish.

The national scene

Only a few years ago, the UK government and parliament were very staunch on the environment and climate change. The then opposition sought to outdo the then government in its zeal. Quotations from both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before they took office and since, illustrate how profound – and depressing – a change has taken place. Of course they are not only giving priority to the economic recovery, but also they have one ear open to some of their own grandees who insist on misunderstanding the science and questioning climate policy; and they keep both eyes wide open to the threat from climate sceptical UKIP. One might question whether reversing the roles again would change the scenario that much. Our secular leaders of almost all political stripes have, unfortunately, failed woefully the test which Churchill always applied – to rise to the level of events.

There are honourable exceptions – the Foreign Office is spreading quiet but exemplary leadership all round the globe, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change has generally remained on-message; although sadly our Secretary of State was among (so to speak) the ‘no shows’ at intermediate climate talks in Bonn this month.

The wider world

We are not on our own in the Church of England; we gain inspiration from around the Anglican Communion through the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. Recently the incomparable Archbishop Desmond Tutu sprang into action again and is in full voice in lending his support to the cause, for example during his helicopter tour of the infamous Canadian tar sands, after which he expressed himself in characteristically forthright terms. We don’t want to shut down industry or livelihoods, but if the cost is tar sand extraction which is as dirty as it gets, that is a price far too high for the environment and the climate to pay.

We are also not alone as Christians. There is a flourishing exchange of experience and encouragement in London right now between Jews, Christians and Muslims. For example, all three Abrahamic faiths were represented at a recent breakfast seminar about the ecological restoration of the River Jordan. This renowned river – now an open sewer – marks the frontiers between communities representing all of these faiths; issues are in play which stir deep passions and atavistic behaviours. Yet not only were those attending this seminar able to discuss the subject matter in a spirit of perfect amity, but it is apparent that the people on the ground have also learned to set aside any differences they may have so as to cooperate – on this particular project – in their mutual best interests. Is that not all that we ask of anyone?

And if we want to see how a new place of worship can be both green and architecturally inspiring, just take a look at the design for the new Cambridge Mosque, for which funds are currently being raised. Make sure to watch the animation.

The movement to disinvest from fossil fuels (which has to be matched by investment in renewable energy) is gathering pace, and the national C of E’s Ethical Investments Advisory Group which advises the NIBs (National Investment Bodies) is conducting a root and branch review, to report in 2015. (We contributed to the formation of this review.)

The media, culture and society

There is a very helpful move afoot to exert constructive leverage upon the media who tend to flip-flop around the issue of climate change, giving the quite erroneous impression that the sceptics (at 2%) are worthy of equal air time to climate scientists and others who really know about it (at 98%); and that the science is not ‘settled’. Of course there are plenty of details which still need studying, but we know all we need to know to be confident that climate change is happening, that it will escalate, that human beings are the cause, and that if we wish to survive and bequeath to our descendents a world worth living in, we all need to take action now, which includes major changes to more or less our entire way of life. Inconvenient this may well be, but it is inescapable.

If it seems fanciful to imagine fundamental change, we might not have noticed how radically and how rapidly our way of life is already changing all the time around us, as we struggle to keep up with those changes and with every latest novelty. But we need to go in a different direction. Might we not step back a little, decide coolly the direction of travel we want our world – God’s world – to take? Then we might – just – perhaps – contribute to steering it along new and more sustainable paths. At any rate, we have to try.


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