Report from General Synod

Disinvestment and Fossil Fuel Companies

The General Synod meeting in York held two debates relating to Environmental Issues. The first one concerned Disinvestment. Fittingly they took place a few days after Archbishop of Canterbury had visited the Stock Exchange to highlight the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), which brings together some of the world’s largest investors to act collaboratively to demand responsible action from companies like Shell and Exxon.

In a presentation by the First Estates Church Commissioner, Loretta Minghella spoke movingly of a visit to the Philippines to see the result of flooding caused by sea level rise there and the stories for families who had lost loved ones. The impact of Climate Change on the poorest of the world was at the forefront of people’s thoughts in the discussions.

There was much praise for the work of the TPI and in particular the Church Commissioners team that have been leading on this work. The question that was debated was how long should companies be given to demonstrate their commitment to begin transition towards a low carbon economy. The Diocese of Oxford urged a deadline of 2020. But Synod felt for those companies not keen to make the changes demanded by TPI, a space of two years could easily be waited out and then all potential influence by TPI members would be lost. And so a date of 2023 was agreed for disinvestment from fossil-fuel companies, unless they are clearly on the path to to tackling climate change and keeping the average global temperature increase to below 2°C.

London and Truro Motion on Environmental Programmes

The Dioceses of Truro and London each had submitted motions on the Environment to be debated at General Synod and agreed to combine so that both could be debated at this week’s Synod.

The Truro element sought to ensure each Diocese has a clear Environmental Programme championed by a member of the senior staff. We used our own work in Cornwall to highlight the potential for other dioceses to follow:

  • Challenging individuals to engage through signing up to the Ten Pledges
  • Promoting a variety of actions for churches using the Green Church Kernow Awards

Vital to this has been the work of the Diocesan Environment Officer:

  • Speaking in churches from Torpoint to Penzance and meeting congregation members.
  • Arranging an inspiring training day on Care of Creation in Mission
  • Setting up the potential for developing Glebe Land for Renewable Energy generation with Battery Storage and a possible income for the Diocese too

The debate that followed brought up examples from around the country of how Care of Creation can be Mission, such as Living Churchyard projects.

The thrust of the London motion was about measuring our Carbon Emissions. Under Shrinking The Footprint, the Church of England committed itself to reduce our CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. But little has been done to monitor whether these targets are being met. And without confidence in this, can we have the authority to challenge other organisations to demand they make changes towards a low carbon economy? London Diocese has a simple tool for parishes comparing year on year energy consumption using information in church fuel bills.

However there were questions… ????

  • Uncertainty over the costs of such a national system – both the model and staff time it might need – that would fall on the Archbishop’s Council finances
  • Is developing a National Scheme, when there are already different local schemes operating in some areas, the best use of limited resources?

In the end the debate was adjourned until next February so that a full assessment of the likely costs of the proposals can be made and a clear way forward for the best way that the Church at National and Local levels can respond to this vital issue.

Post Script

In the debate on the Archbishop’s Council Budget the next day, the Chair John Spence mentioned the possibility of looking for further funds to support the Church’s Environmental Agenda.

So there was some disappointment that the motion was not carried at the first hurdle, BUT there will be an opportunity to talk about the issue in front of the full Synod next year, AND the possibility of additional funds from the Central Church which would not have happened without the Truro and London motions.

Andrew Yates, Luci Isaacson
Diocese of Truro