Taking Climate Action in the Benefice of Witney

How can we, as Christians and churches, take effective climate action?

That’s a question the Witney Benefice has been exploring recently. In response to growing concern about the state of the planet, the benefice is seeking to encourage individual action. But recognising that the frameworks within which people act are important – and that setting those frameworks requires action at a national scale – they wanted to do more. On 11 December, the rector of the Witney Benefice, the Revd Canon Toby Wright, arranged a group meeting with Robert Courts, MP for Witney and West Oxfordshire.

The group included the area dean, local clergy, a member of a local green business and members of the diocesan Environmental Task Group. Each shared their reasons for caring about the environment and the issues which most concerned them.

Sharing concern for the future

It was moving to hear those present sharing their concern for people affected by climate change – and for the future of their children and grandchildren. On a local scale, issues include the importance of the Cotswold Necklace railway line and the need to preserve farmland for food security. More general topics raised included the imbalance in spending on roads and on public transport. The ETG shared the diocese’s net-zero plans and highlighted three areas it felt the government needed to take a clear lead:

  1. Unambiguous adoption of a joined-up strategy along the lines of the CCC pathway
  2. Clear and consistent ‘market signals’ to help organise and allocate financial investment
  3. Frontloading of government investment to underwrite and subsidise specific high-return projects/initiatives
Revd Toby Wright, rector of the Witney Benefice

Revd Canon Toby Wright, rector of the Witney Benefice

Personal commitment and government action

MP Robert Courts responded by noting his own personal commitment to care for the environment, promising to hold the government to account on its environmental pledges, including the warmly welcomed decision to set a target of 68% cuts in emissions by 2030. He agreed to visit local church schools to discuss climate issues with young people and hear their concerns. He will also discuss partnerships with the diocese, which itself has a target of reducing emissions 70% by 2030, set at the March 2020 diocesan synod. With such a synergy of ambitions, one member of the group pointed out it would make sense for the government and diocese to work together on trial and support for specific decarbonisation initiatives.

The group welcome Robert Courts’ willingness to work together and look forward to taking initiatives further. They plan to meet again in six months’ time to assess progress.

What can you do?

If your parish, benefice or deanery has held a similar meeting with your MP and would like to share the learnings from it, please get in touch with the Environment Action Programme team. If you would like to hold such an event, we would be delighted to work with you. We have resources that may prove helpful and can put you in touch with people who will be able to offer mentoring.