Diocese of Oxford declares a climate emergency and agrees action plan

A common vision for a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world means that care for the climate is front and centre for the Diocese of Oxford.

On Saturday 14 March, the Oxford Diocesan Synod gave its overwhelming support to a motion that declares a Climate Emergency and commits the Diocese to a wide-ranging plan of practical action, prayer and advocacy, including a move towards a net-zero target.

The Diocese’s new plans were formulated in conjunction with experts from the national Church and business, local charities, the academic community, and other professionals working in the areas involved. They draw on the strength of the Church – the expertise among its parishioners, the strength of church communities, links with local communities, and connections with other dioceses, the national Church and Christians worldwide.

Getting to net-zero requires reducing emissions resulting from diocesan activity and then, for any remaining emissions, withdrawing an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is a process that is necessary if the target of reducing global warming to the targets set by the Paris Agreement is to be met.

The process in Oxford Diocese has already begun through, for example, greening Church House Oxford, carrying out an energy audit, implementing its recommendations, and switching to a renewable energy tariff. Parishes, too, are working towards this: almost 10% of our churches have had energy audits, and the number of churches on Parish Buying’s renewable tariff has more than doubled since Autumn 2018.

But achieving net-zero across the Diocese is an altogether different order of magnitude, and the motion represents a step-change in our commitments. The plan of action will encompass clergy housing, churches and schools, reimbursed travel and some aspects of procurement. It will involve a rigorous survey to determine where resources can best be directed. While this may have significant costs, as Bishop Olivia makes clear, we can ill afford to do otherwise.

“It will be costly, but we must play our part in this.

“It is our calling and our responsibility. We face the facts and reality with gritty determination and stubborn optimism. We can do this if we choose to,” said Bishop Olivia, introducing the motion to Diocesan Synod. “We have drawn up a plan to aim for net-zero emissions as a Diocese by 2035.

“We believe that this is well thought-through, realistic and achievable. We have done it soberly, in consultation with many experts and specialists.” The 2035 target was set and scoped in response to deanery synod motions, the first of which was passed last summer. The Diocese will also be scoping out the possibility of meeting the earlier target set by General Synod of 2030.

Diocesan Synod gave its overwhelming support to the motion. The Diocese will now begin preparations to build the capacity required to facilitate the changes in practices, processes and buildings necessary to decrease its carbon footprint on the scale required.

• Find out how what the Diocese is already doing to care for creation

The Diocesan Synod motion:

That this synod, affirming the fifth mark of mission, concerned by the scientific evidence that climate change is proceeding at a rapid rate and by the impact of climate events, and seeking to build on the decisions taken with respect to GS 2159:

a) declares a Climate Emergency;

b) urges this Diocese, the General Synod and all Anglican leaders to speak out about climate change and its impacts;

c) mindful of the General Synod resolution calling dioceses to examine what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030, urges this Diocese to achieve year-on-year reductions consonant with at least reaching 70% cuts by 2030 and net zero by 2035, or as soon thereafter as is possible;

d) urges the National Investment Bodies of the Church of England and the Church Commissioners to prioritise investment in renewable energy, and that appropriate committees prioritise creation care in their administrative processes;

e) urges Anglican leaders to further develop pre- and post-ordination and lay training to deepen understanding in how care for the earth is part of our Christian faith and a missional imperative;

f) urges Anglican leaders and all Christians to seek to support the poorest in the world who are suffering the most from the impacts of climate change, in the awareness that our nation has been among those who have benefited most from the emissions that has caused the crisis;

g) commends all Christians to consider their individual responsibilities and how they may change and engage in actions that care for creation;

h) commits to pray earnestly and regularly about the climate crisis: for all peoples to value God’s earth and its creatures and for urgent action by individuals, communities and nations to act to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

(i) recognising the scale of the task, commits itself to ensuring that the Oxford Diocese makes practical preparations to build the capacity to facilitate the changes in our practices, processes and buildings which will be necessary to decrease the carbon footprint of the Diocese and its Parishes on the scale required.

And instructs that a motion in the following terms be submitted for consideration by the General Synod:

That this synod, affirming the fifth mark of mission, concerned by the scientific evidence that climate change is proceeding at a rapid rate and by the impact of climate events, and seeking to build on the decisions taken with respect to GS 2159

a) urges the National Investment Bodies of the Church of England to prioritise investment in renewable energy;

b) calls on all parts of the Church of England to review their policies and procedures, in order to ensure that they give due priority to creation care;

c) urges the Church of England to further develop pre- and post-ordination and lay training to deepen understanding in how care for the earth is part of our Christian faith and a missional imperative;

d) urges all parts of the Church of England to seek to support, through prayer, advocacy and practical action, the poorest in the world who are suffering the most from the impacts of climate change, in the awareness that our nation has been among those who have benefited most from the emissions that have caused the crisis;

e) commits earnestly and regularly to pray – and to promote prayer – about the climate and wider environmental crisis.

(f) Calls upon all institutions of the Church of England to make urgent practical preparations for the delivery of substantial reduction of the Church’s carbon footprint, including, but not restricted to, the following immediate actions in respect of Church buildings:

(i.1) ensuring that the NCIs are adequately resourced to provide DACs, Buildings Departments, Education Departments and others with authoritative national guidance notes, advice and training on key technical and procedural questions relating to adaptation of buildings for the net zero target; and

(i.2) ensuring that Parish Buying and other national-level entities have the capacity to engage with manufacturers and suppliers of products and processes recommended for making our buildings more efficient, with a view to using the scale of the national net zero project to achieve both sympathetic design and economies of scale on cost