The first findings from a study to capture carbon impacts in the Church of England have been published, a year on from a vote committing the Church to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The findings show five per cent of churches sampled were already net-zero carbon. While a 12.5 per cent carbon reduction has already been made across the country, when compared with a comparative, although smaller, 2006 study.
The report suggests there is still significant scope for churches to install cleaner technologies to reduce their carbon impacts with just one per cent of churches having installed solar panels to date.
Becky Clark, Director of Churches and Cathedrals for the Church of England spoke to Premier about the progress made so far and how churches can do more.
"The thing about the net zero target is that it comes from a deeply theological Christian place. Christians are called to care for and to safeguard God's creation. It's the fifth mark of mission, but it's much more about just being about the UK, this is about being global neighbours and trying to support the global climate crisis, which of course, is impacting some of the most deprived in the world the most. So from that perspective, it's really important that churches do their part and that we see it in that perspective, on a local basis.
"Yes, there's lots of things that churches can do that are small measures that make a big difference. But one of the biggest things that we've seen in this recent study that makes the biggest difference to overall carbon footprint is changing your energy supplier to a 100 per cent, green supplier, parish buying have a tariff that churches can sign up to, that's been negotiated specifically to be a green tariff. So it's a really easy thing for local churches to do. And if all of our churches were on green electricity tariffs, we could cut the carbon that we've measured this year by another quarter."
On 12 February 2020, the General Synod committed the Church to reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2030. A detailed definition of net-zero was finalised in the autumn. This followed a major consultation with dioceses and cathedrals.
Encouragement has also been given to the network of Church schools. St Andrew's CofE (VA) Primary School in Chedworth has been awarded a £120,000 as part of the Government's Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and is on course to become one of the first net-zero carbon schools in the country.
In order to assist churches in their efforts, The Energy Footprint Tool (EFT) was launched in January 2020. It's a simple dashboard which has been piloted by churches keen to reduce their carbon footprint. The tool provides advice to parishes who have entered their data about how to take further steps. It also features an appliance-style energy rating showing how the church compares to others of a similar size.
Becky Clark added that although committing the Church to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 is an ambitious target, she is confident it is achievable.
"It is ambitious, but we've got to be ambitious. There is no other option here. We are called on by God to care for his creation and this is imperative. Things like the covid crisis are going to look insubstantial compared to the impact that climate crisis has if we don't tackle it, so we are prayerfully and joyfully able to embrace the possibilities of reaching this target. And yes, what is a very ambitious amount of time but having seen how many churches have engaged at grassroots, with this energy tool, with the initiatives, the webinars and training we've done in the last year, the fact that this groundswell of desire to do this didn't come from the national church, it came from parishes, it came from diocesan Synod, I am confident that we will be able to do it.
The lead bishop for the environment, Nicholas Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury welcomed the commitment shown by churches across England who have used the tool.
He said in a statement: "Committing the Church of England to become net-zero by 2030 has emphasised the urgency of the climate crisis. It has inspired us all to pick up the pace in the care of God's creation.
"There has been a magnificent response already, but it is sobering to realise how much more is needed. The Energy Footprint Tool, good advice and some excellent case studies are available to stimulate, encourage and help.
"We need to be working at this in every Church community - churches, chaplaincies, schools, homes and offices - as we move towards our 2030 target for the sake of the world God loves."