Environmental action

One of our main priorities is responding to the climate crisis and the broader environmental crises facing our planet. It’s a priority for us all, individually and corporately. Diocesan Synod has declared a climate emergency and set ambitious but clear targets for reaching net zero. An Environment Task Group (ETG) is overseeing an ambitious programme of change and, already, we are investing over £200,000 during the next seven years on a carbon footprint reduction programme across our church buildings.

We are also encouraging and resourcing churches for prayer and action through a variety of initiatives, including:

So far more than 80 of our churches have registered for the Eco Church programme; fifteen have achieved bronze awards and six have achieved silver awards. Around 12% of our churches have had energy audits and many are making efficiency improvements as a result. And the number of parishes using renewable tariffs has more than doubled. We’ve also ensured that all of our Bishops are driving electric or hybrid vehicles.

Our beginnings…

In January 2020 the Diocese launched a major new climate change task group under the leadership of Bishop Olivia. The task force, which first met in Autumn 2019, includes specialists on climate change as well as key stakeholders from across the Diocese. The group has embarked on an intensive programme of work that will help us arrive at what we can all do at a national, diocesan, parish and individual level to address the climate emergency and arrive at our goal of reaching net zero (see next section).

In addition to the 2020-2024 net zero actions, there are ten areas of activity that the task group is currently focussed on.

  1. Uphold all that we do in prayer and to promote prayer throughout the Diocese
  2. Establish an online EcoHub and pilot the ‘InSpire’ programme
    These help individuals and parishes to explore the science of climate change, theological responses, and pathways to action
  3. Scale up the opportunities we offer for theological reflection and training for clergy and lay people
  4. Incorporate care for creation into our existing discipleship programmes
  5. Listen to and amplify the voice of young people on climate and environmental issues, in 2021 promoting the YCCN Relay to COP26
  6. Support Church Schools in their work on climate change
  7. Strengthen connections with local community groups, councils and NGOs to encourage church/community action.
  8. Refine and expand the current Energy Audit programme
  9. Expand our current work to promote the shift to renewable electricity tariffs and ‘green gas’ tariffs.
  10. Work with local partners, our link dioceses, and the Anglican Communion to promote climate justice in our area, nationally and globally.

Net zero in this Diocese

Declaring a climate emergency and practical planning to achieve net zero isn’t about the Diocese as ‘an institution’, rather it’s about us all: schools, churches, parishioners and families working together.

The Environmental Task Group (ETG) has been working on how a net zero target can be achieved in a way which is realistic, measurable, and takes into account uncertainties around policy, infrastructure and new technologies.

In February 2020, General Synod carried a motion calling upon all parts of the Church of England to work to achieve year-on-year reductions in emissions and urgently examine what would be required to reach net zero emissions by 2030 in order that a plan of action can be drawn up to achieve that target. We welcome the sense of urgency behind this motion, and its recognition of our missional imperative to action. Based on our work thus far it is our present sense that the constraints and characteristics of this Diocese will make it very unlikely that we will achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

Three of our deaneries had brought a motion to our diocesan synod asking the Diocese to declare a Climate Emergency and, ‘to work 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.’ That motion was the basis for our diocesan planning and was carried (though we were mindful of the national 2030 target) at the March 2020 synod. The full text of the Diocesan Synod motion, which includes a motion for consideration by General Synod, is available in the Diocesan Synod section of the website.

We are working to facilitate the changes in our practices, processes and buildings which will be necessary to decrease the carbon footprint of our Diocese and its parishes on the scale required. These preparations will include work to scope the possibilities of achieving the national goal by 2030. Click [+] below to find out more.

  • Measurement – we will need to begin by measuring our baseline
  • Church House Oxford – emissions from the building’s energy use are already at net zero. We will continue to improve recycling, encourage people to reduce emissions through the way they use the facilities, and look seriously at procurement, use of water, and remaining amounts of waste.
  • Clergy housing – we will: encourage individuals to switch to renewable tariffs, renovate 67 “off-grid” clergy houses to appropriate technology; change our boiler replacement policy; evaluate our housing stock overall; strategic capital investment in renovations to improve efficiency.
  • Schools – we will focus initially on use of renewable tariffs and changing oil-fired buildings. We will seek to work with the local authorities, local energy groups, and other partners in exploring the possibility for low-carbon heating solutions to replace oil. We will make use of free or low-cost energy audit opportunities for schools and actively pursue government loan funds and grant funding where appropriate.
  • Churches – we will ask all churches to apply for an audit. Full audits will provide advice on efficiency and an individualised pathway to net zero. We will aim to share best practice from current solutions found in other churches, and to assist churches in navigating the necessary permissions. We will also explore other methods of financing parish works, working in conjunction with external partners, other dioceses and the national church.
  • Travel – we will work to gain consensus about patterns of activity and scheduling. We will, for example, endeavour to group visits by diocesan staff to schools, churches, and clergy houses to minimise mileage. We will encourage lift sharing to diocesan meetings, make more meetings accessible by public transport, and use technology to conduct meetings that don’t absolutely require people to be present face-to-face. We will also look at helping diocesan staff and clergy transition to electric (or hydrogen) vehicles. We will signpost ways for clergy to access grants to install charging points at home.
  • Air transport – the Council for Partners in World Mission (PWM) evaluates all travel carefully and does not support air travel unless there is a clearly defined purpose that cannot be accomplished in any other way. PWM already recommends that land or sea travel should replace air travel it do where possible and will offset air travel for which the Diocese is paying.
  • Diocesan-owned land – conversations have begun with our property managers on how to evaluate the emissions associated with our portfolio. We are also exploring the possibility of carbon removal using some of our land to participate in schemes that promote biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Source: Diocesan Synod paper ODS-20.01b

For the purposes of net zero we are currently defining ‘the Diocese’ as comprising:

  • individuals, whose activities are only counted if reimbursed as part of diocesan business;
  • ‘the Diocese’ as governed by Synod, with ODBF as the legal entity;
  • institutional entities such as churches and the cathedral, which are governed by canon law and control their own operations but are recognised as part of the diocese
  • educational institutions (Voluntary Aided schools and diocesan MATs) over which we exercise a measure of management control.

Source: Diocesan Synod paper ODS-20.01b

It is difficult to estimate the costs of reaching net zero. Decisions by the Government and local authorities on infrastructure policy as well as potential advances in technology will have a profound impact on the gross cost of changes necessary. Moreover, there are uncertainties around the scale of government subsidies and private funding for change. We are also aware that net costs will be reduced over time in many instances by savings from efficiency measures.

Given those caveats, the following are suggested as provisional best-estimate costs in the present context. This work includes a detailed review of the reality of taking particular actions, made in consultation with heating and lighting specialists, energy auditors, property managers, clergy and laity, academics and practitioners. While the numbers are large, it is important to note that there will also be significant savings, including where it is possible to reduce mileage significantly through the rationalisation of journeys.

  • £60-100k for baseline surveys for clergy housing
  • £170k to subsidise energy audits for churches – this is already provided for within current funding
  • £2-3 million for converting oil-heated (the highest priority) dwellings to appropriate alternatives, including the associated costs of updating properties (we hope up to a third of this cost could be covered by a Government scheme), with the conversion of other properties managed by the Buildings department resulting in a total cost in excess of £20 million
  • £30 million for church schools (some could be funded by government schemes including revolving loan funds and some might be covered by partnerships to install renewable energy)
  • Indicative estimates for churches will follow. In essence, for some that are electrically-heated the cost will be very low; for those used very regularly and heated by oil or LPG the costs could be considerably greater. Audits will show what solutions are best in each case.
  • There will be some additional staffing costs to the diocese of enabling and supporting this transitional activity, including within the Buildings department.

Source: Diocesan Synod paper ODS-20.01b

Key Principles

  • That we have an obligation, laid on us by love of God and neighbour, to set targets in accordance with what is scientifically necessary to keep within the bounds of a 1.5 degree target;
  • That we seek to time our work in a way which makes the best use of resources in every sense – initially working on managing extant systems better to achieve the most reductions we can, then investing in technology where management alone will not suffice, and always ensuring that we choose the timing and nature of our technology changes well, so that we take advantage of technological advances and do not create unnecessary emissions even as we seek to reduce them, and
  • That we will work insofar as possible in partnership with others, seeking to be a catalyst for wider work in our communities and in the church, and to make use of economies of scale.

Constraints and characteristics the Diocese of Oxford

  • Our broad geographic spread (Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes), which means we are working with numerous local authorities, which currently have different targets.
  • Some uniquely challenging buildings with which to work.
  • People’s willingness to change the way they think about energy use, and to factor energy savings into their evaluation of activities.
  • Uncertainty about government policy and the pace of technical and infrastructural change.
  • The financial resources available to us.

Local case study: parish energy audits

Energy efficiency can enable our churches to provide attractive places of sanctuary, fellowship and communion – with a comfortable level of warmth and illumination – at a lower cost to the planet, and sometimes with financial savings as well. One significant barrier for churches, however, is knowing what positive actions they can undertake. PCCs can now obtain and begin to act on expert advice in this area with energy audits carried out by professionals with experience of historic places of worship.

The energy audit looks at a range of energy uses in the church building, from lighting to heating, and recommends the energy and carbon reduction measures available. These can include simple changes that will cost nothing – such as setting adjustments and changing practices – as well as options for renewable technologies, better controls, or changes in equipment.

This short film tells the story of how one church in Wokingham has benefited from this approach.

What you can do