A Christian climate organisation has claimed that land owned by the Church of is currently contributing “significantly to the climate and biodiversity emergencies in terms of greenhouse gas emissions”.
Operation Noah’s 16-page report, Church Land and the Climate Crisis: A Call to Action, states that the Church’s landholdings include 98,000 acres of rural and strategic land owned by the CofE’s Church Commissioners, 70,000 acres owned by Church of England dioceses, 31,000 acres in the Church Commissioners’ UK forestry investments and smaller areas of land owned by individual CofE churches.
That amounts to approximately 0.5 per cent of the UK’s land.
Sharon Hall, Operation Noah’s campaign officer and the report’s author told Premier: “That land has a big impact on the climate releases emissions, but also can be used to store carbon if we don't disturb the soil. There are better farming techniques that we would like the church to be encouraging.”
The report recommends a programme of tree growing, peat restoration, and providing better support and strategies to those who farm Church-owned land in order to reduce agricultural emissions and store more carbon.
Hall added: “Peat land is an area across the UK where if peat is in good condition, so if it’s properly wet, it acts as a really good carbon sink. But actually, majority of peat in the UK is in a bad condition. And it's actually four per cent of UK emissions in 2019 came from peatland. So actually, protecting restoring peat is really important”.
In July General Synod approved a routemap for how the Church of England can be net zero carbon by 2030. It included a plan that prioritises identifying high energy-consuming, high carbon-emitting buildings, and coming up with ways to tackle carbon emissions from them. It also has a wealth of information on its website guiding churches on practical ways they can reach net zero.
While Hall applauded the plans, she said it’s focused on buildings and not on land. The report finds that agricultural land owned by the CofE is likely to create more greenhouse gas emissions than all CofE church buildings combined.
“In terms of church lands, there's a bit less ambition,” she said.
“They're looking at 2050 as a target to be net zero, whereas actually, some of these changes could have been made sooner and could impact climate sooner. So that's what we're asking for a bit more ambition, a bit more action. And working with farmers, we don't want to blame farmers for the fact that there's emissions coming from their lands, because there's emissions coming from so many different areas, but actually finding the ways to work with farmers.”
Andy Lester, Head of Conservation, A Rocha UK: ‘This report outlines the critical role the Church must play if we are to confront and mitigate the impacts of climate on people and nature. As one of the largest UK landowners, the responsibility of the Church to engage with the issues and come up with inspired and creative solutions is immediate and immense. My hope is that this report will go some way to address the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and inspire a new generation of church leaders to take action for people, for climate and for nature.’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that for the world to limit global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, global greenhouse gas emissions must be nearly halved by 2030
A Church Commissioners’ spokesperson told Premier in a statement: “We welcome the conversation about how our global land portfolio, which includes over 100,000 acres of forestry in multiple markets including 37,000 acres in the UK, can help address the urgent climate crisis. We look forward to sharing more details about our progress and our ongoing approach to sustainability.
“Our land portfolio is entirely let, providing opportunity to collaborate with our tenants to ensure we will meet our target to be net zero by 2050. Over the last few years, we’ve taken a proactive approach to achieve that target including planting 10 million trees in the last five years, engaging with local experts within Fenland SOIL to identify opportunities for lowland peat restoration and seeking ways to support sustainable farming businesses in the transition to low carbon farming.”
Listen to Premier's interview with Sharon Hall here: