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Diocesan Synod Report 2020 on the Environment and Sustainability

Progress report on the Environment and Sustainability to Diocesan Synod on 12th March 2020, by the Head of Environment and Sustainability.

A Quantum Leap?

Introduction and summary

My last Synod report, in February 2018, bore the title ‘Pressing On’. Well, we still are. Every report on the environment to Synod has had some catchy moniker, reflecting the situation current then. Yet the same themes have recurred each time, about climate change, biodiversity, water and waste, and much else.

This report heads up the set of papers on the environment in support of Diocesan Synod’s Agenda. Synod is asked to:

  1. Note this Report;

  2. Approve the newly revised Diocesan Environmental Policy which follows;

  3. Note the provisional Framework Action Plan, as an Annex to the Policy;

  4. Note the responses made to consultations by Heathrow Airport Limited, and previous briefing to Bishop’s Council dated October 2019;

  5. Approve a policy resolution on Heathrow Airport, which concludes this report.


In the Diocese we have been making steady progress on climate change mitigation, by reducing our energy and carbon emissions. So far as is measurable, by the last year of annual returns (2018), our churches had saved 19.5% of their energy use since 2005, and 21.7% of their carbon emissions. 2019 data will form part of the new national online tool, to which we are migrating.

Diocesan House remains net zero carbon for its fuel and power, through a renewable electricity tariff, and offsetting of gas.

68 churches have now signed up to Eco Church, with 18 awards, including one Gold, six Silvers and twelve Bronzes.

Farther to go

These are indeed positive steps forward – but with much farther to go. What happens in terms of climate change and other threats may still turn out very badly. Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have succeeded in focussing attention on this – though some of us have been saying the same for years and years, they do so with more drama.

The Church of England has been urged to redouble its efforts by General Synod’s resolution on 12th February, proposing a daunting new target of Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Is this a quantum leap? It looks much like it. Actually, quantum leaps are little things. This is a very big target, for a shrinking footprint.

Included in the papers is an outline Framework Action Plan on how we might implement that. The Plan is for Synod to note at this stage – it is a work in progress. It should be read as an Annex to the revised diocesan policy also included in the papers. Synod is asked to adopt this revised policy.

It quotes and endorses General Synod’s decision; it is hoped that such a Framework Plan will offer sufficient comfort that we are not without a road-map for how to get there.

At the same time, our Plan needs to locate the Diocese’s efforts within the long-term ambitions of our 2030 Vision. Conveniently, the target dates are the same. However it is important to realise that energy and carbon reductions will need to continue through decades after 2030. It is impossible for us to eliminate all our emissions by 2030.

Therefore we must rely to some extent on offsetting but, crucially, to a decreasing extent as our emissions continue to shrink. We also ought to plan for increasing giving to our overseas Partner Dioceses, through our ALMA link, and through aid agencies including Christian Aid and Tearfund – in order to fund assistance to our brothers and sisters in developing countries who are already experiencing severe impacts from climate change. Tragically, more and more generous giving will be needed as their suffering mounts – as it will. This year’s Lent Appeal ‘Wheels for Climate Change Emergencies’ is a vital first step. We are members of one another.

(The revised policy was adopted. The previous version dated from 2010 and was overdue for updating).

Wider still and wider

While tackling the main headline challenge of climate change, we must not lose sight of other almost co-equal challenges, including biodiversity loss – the scientific term for God’s Creation which also embraces everything else, and which we are charged with looking after – and also, of course, the nightmare of plastic in the oceans, to which the UK small though it is, contributes substantially. These issues are represented by the matrix of nine focus points on the front page of the Framework Plan – a bit like a modern camera, focussing on all of them at once. They have a bearing on each other, and are unpacked and analysed on later pages of the Plan.

Eco Church is a great introduction to the whole range. Every church needs to register
as an Eco Church (and take action on that commitment). We are about to sign up to
Eco Diocese; this will call for significant action at the centre too – targets are in the Plan.

Heathrow Airport

Finally, the papers include for Synod to note, three responses to consultations by Heathrow on their expansion plans, which have been submitted since the last time Synod considered the matter in February 2018, on its authority subject to approval by the Bishop. The last of these was reported to Bishop’s Council last November; that briefing is included in the present papers, edited into a single document together with all three responses.

Sadly, the damage which would be inflicted by expansion looks worse, if anything, than it did at the end of last year. In at least two ways: first, a new class of ultrafine particulate air pollutants, attributable to Heathrow, has recently been detected even in central London. While Heathrow Airport has offered some very flimsy pretexts for believing that the carbon emissions from flying can be radically reduced, for example by use of biofuels, and even electrically powered passenger aeroplanes! This lacks credibility, to put it kindly.

The Appeals Court has ruled against the government’s Airports National Policy Statement because it failed to take account of climate change commitments at all! This may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Whether this will have the effect of halting expansion remains to be seen.

Heathrow was genuinely trying hard to mitigate other impacts, as was noted in the report to Bishop’s Council. At the time of writing, Heathrow is still consulting: this writer has been attending a course of presentations on heritage issues (but intriguingly was not invited to similar events on the much less tractable environmental concerns). A further statutory general consultation is – or was – planned in April 2020.

A specific policy is therefore proposed for Synod to approve in the following terms:

“This Synod
(a) Resolves that the Diocese continue to oppose the expansion of Heathrow Airport, unless and until adequate mitigation is secured to the impacts of expansion, including on people especially the vulnerable and young people, homes and communities, the historic environment, landscape and biodiversity, noise and air pollution, health and climate change;

(b) Welcomes those genuine mitigation measures that are already proposed, but notes that they do not yet come close to what is required and has been called for;

(c) Authorises the Head of Environment and Sustainability to prepare and submit responses to further consultations, having regard to the approach outlined in (a) and (b), and subject to approval by the Bishop of London of the text of each response;

(d) Requests that regular reports continue to be submitted to this Synod, together with the texts of consultation responses.”

(The above resolution was adopted.)

Environment and Sustainability, front page.

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