General Synod Tackles Climate Change

There was overwhelming support for  work  on climate change at the July 2015 session of Church of England General Synod.

The text of the motion passed overwhelmingly by Synod is below, including amendments from the original proposition in italics:

‘That this Synod, believing that God’s creation is holy, that we are called to protect the earth now and for the future, and that climate change disproportionately affects the world’s poorest, and welcoming the convergence of ecumenical partners and faith communities in demanding that the nations of the world urgently seek to limit the global rise in average temperatures to a maximum of 2 ̊C, as agreed by the United Nations in Cancun:

(a) urge all governments at the COP 21 meeting in Paris to agree long term pathways to a low carbon future, supported by meaningful short to medium term national emissions pledges from all major carbon emitting nations;

(b) endorse the World Bank’s call for the ending of fossil fuel subsidies and the redirection of those resources into renewable energy options

(c) encourage the redirection of resources into other lower carbon energy options;

(d) request the Environment Working Group to develop Shrinking the Footprint to enable the whole Church to address the issue of climate change, and to develop and promote new ‘ecotheological resources’, as proposed by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network in February 2015;

(e) request the Ministry Division to hear the call of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network bishops for programmes of ministerial formation and in-servicetraining to include components on eco-justice and ecotheology; and

(f) encourage parishes and dioceses to draw attention to the initiative supported by members of the Faith and Climate network encouraging Christians to pray and fast for climate justice on the first day of each month.’

The debate was energised and encouraging with contributions on local energy schemes, the threat to the poorest people around the world, investment policy, prayer, and the need for united global action. The Bishop of Salisbury’s opening speech drew on ecumenical resources as well as stories from around the Anglican Communion. Read it in full here:


“On this last day of Synod it is good to be looking forward and outwards to address an issue of global concern that is the big issue. This motion is specifically about climate change. It is to support and strengthen those preparing for the Paris Summit at the end of the year and beyond. It is also challenges ourselves and the whole of the Church of England.

When the background paper for this debate was written the Papal Encyclical had not been published. Laudato Si’ is very welcome. It addresses not just Roman Catholics, Christians and people of faith but in the care of our common home it addresses everyone. Its Franciscan joy and delight in response to creation has caught the  imagination. It is serious and hopeful. St Francis, “shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.”

Our Bible Studies and Group Work rooted this debate in Scripture, as did the EIAG presentation on Friday evening.  Their policy is not for now but it is an exemplary piece of work setting a clear direction for us as a Church which others are already using.

This morning’s motion develops previous Synod debates in a trajectory set by the Anglican Communion in the 1980’s with the Five Marks of Mission, the  5th  of which is, “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” This is integral to evangelism and mission.

An ecumenical consensus has emerged about climate change. Pope Francis refers to the work of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It was particularly good to hear the Archbishop of Uppsala address this Synod. ‘A Bishops’ Letter about the Climate’ published by the Church of Sweden in 2014, takes science and theology seriously. It recognises we have entered a new era in which we people are causing climate change.

Our knowledge about future climate change is subject to a range of uncertainties… No one is able to predict exactly how the climate will develop. However, it is essential that we act now. It will certainly not be possible to establish that there is an alarmingly high temperature increase until it is too late to avoid it. Uncertainty about how the climate system reacts to emissions cannot therefore be used as an excuse for postponing powerful measures until we have more certain information.

The only reasonable approach to the climate challenge is to act with caution.

In the words of a placard on the recent Climate Change lobby of Parliament, ‘There is no Planet B’.

The motion reflects the statement from the meeting Bishops of the Anglican Communion’s Environmental Network in February and from the recently renewed Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change signed by our Archbishops and other faith leaders.  They said the task is urgent, considerable and we need to work with partners.

In the last 150 years we have burned fossil fuels that took 1 billion years to lay down in the earth. The earth cannot sustain this level of consumption. This is about our ‘reading the signs of the times’ and ‘seeking the common good’.

The science, economics and politics all point in the same direction.


Climate Change disproportionately affect the poorest. They are most vulnerable to increased storms, rising sea level, changing patterns of rainfall, floods and drought. We live interconnected lives. What is bad for our neighbours is bad for us.

It’s nine years since the Stern Review estimated that impacts of climate change will be equivalent to reducing gross domestic product (GDP) globally by 5-20% per year.  That has been much debated. Lord Stern has revised his view. He says underestimated the risks, the impact of climate change and the probability of temperature increases.

The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.


Before the General Election the then main Party Leaders – David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – pledged to work together across party lines to address the challenge of climate change, working towards a new international deal on climate change, to agree UK carbon budgets in accordance with the Climate Change Act, and to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and end the use of unabated coal in power generation.  

There is high quality leadership from the UK but it is difficult to get urgent international commitments to fair, ambitious, accountable and binding climate change agreements. 

Our politicians welcome the support of the Church and the faith communities. The Conference of European Churches is working together to prepare for Paris. 

A Spiritual Problem

At root there is a spiritual problem. We get things fundamentally wrong, especially when we behave as though we are the centre of everything.  

What is needed is a change of heart and of direction, a humbler, smarter and more urgent approach to our care of God’s earth – repentance for the forgiveness of sins as well as the engagement of our best minds and hearts. 

This motion is one of the longest to come to Synod in William Fittall’s time as General Secretary. 

It makes a theological statement that we believe God’s creation is holy; asks something of us, that we are called to protect the earth now and for the future; recognises that climate change disproportionately affects the poor; and welcomes the convergence of agreement about the need to limit the global rise in average temperatures to 2 degrees C.

This is urgent and requires we work together.

We urge all governments at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Paris 30th Nov- 11th Dec (COP 21) to agree long term pathways to a low carbon future. The UK has shown significant leadership. Paris will strengthen the international framework that reduces carbon emissions.

The task is not just to Paris but beyond. We will also need to extend climate finance to help the less developed world to ‘leap frog’ to low carbon and renewable energy. Political courage needs support.

We need to move from subsidies of fossil fuels to investment in renewable energy. This is already apparent in the way our National Investment Bodies are moving in response to the EIAG report. 

We need to continue to shrink our own carbon footprint and use the opportunities of churches and schools to educate and inspire change. Every Diocese is supposed to have a Diocesan Environmental Officer to champion this. Use the resources. When you go back from Synod encourage parishes to use the existing and excellent resources to lead your church through a changing climate.

The Environmental Working Group can develop and promote new ecotheological resources. It’s new word to me, too, but was used at the  Anglican Communion Environmental Network conference in February. It’s important to use the language of the Communion because we have to address climate change together. Eco is from the Greek oikos, house or home. Economy, ecology, ecumenism all help us to help us think about and care for our common home. So of course  Christians will want to use ‘ecotheology’ and to seek ‘eco-justice’ for the love of God and of our neighbour. 

This is a spiritual problem and it is complex. Pray about it and encourage others to pray about it, too. There’s been some puzzlement about encouraging prayer and fasting. It’s not just about “skipping a sandwich” but helping those of us who are well fed to notice what it means to be hungry and to hunger for justice.  What do we want? What does God want for us? How are we going to work for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?  

At the end of the Christian Aid visit to Malawi to see the impact of climate change on development, we met the poorest people we had seen all week. The poorest, planting trees that will give them no reward, no fruit, for years because trees will best prevent soil erosion and aid climate. The poor are often our teachers because they are less well protected and most vulnerable. They are forced to be realistic about what is happening to our common home.

A similar commitment and sacrifice is asked of us now.”