Anglicanism Church of England could stop heating cathedrals to hit 2045 emissions target

General Synod to debate motion that could radically change energy use in church buildings nergy use in church buildings

Nave of Salisbury Cathedral
 The church may have to reconsider how it heats some of its vast buildings such as Salisbury Cathedral. Photograph: Alamy

The Church of England is expected to take steps to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2045, including making radical changes to the way it heats its 40,000 buildings, among them vast medieval cathedrals.

There could be heated cushions in pews aimed at warming individuals rather than heating the air in churches and cathedrals, and bishops may be discouraged from international air travel.

The church is launching an energy ratings system similar to those used for household appliances to monitor the carbon footprint of its buildings, which also include schools, halls and vicarages. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” said Nicholas Holtam, the bishop of Salisbury and the church’s lead on environmental affairs.

The C of E’s ruling body, the General Synod, will debate a motion next month calling on the church to reach net zero emissions by 2045 at the latest. A paper submitted to the synod says all parts of the church must take action or “ramp up what they are already doing”.

The church must “begin by getting our own house in order”, and although the paper says there are excellent initiatives, “the overall picture remains patchy”.

It gives examples such as switching to LED lighting, moving away from gas and oil to green electricity as the source of heat, using electric rather than petrol or diesel vehicles, and encouraging biodiversity in churchyards and glebe land.

“We would need to think about our international travel, recognising that there are very strong connections with the rest of the world but also developing ways of nurturing those relationships which are more sustainable, and offsetting flights when necessary,” it says.

The church is committed is to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% within 30 years. Holtam acknowledged that some dioceses would like “us to go faster [than net zero by 2045], but we have got to travel together as a church, and set realistic targets”.

He said the environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had been “brilliant” at forcing the climate crisis on to the global agenda.

“The Church of England has buildings in every architectural style and material from the past 1,500 years, posing some unique challenges when it comes to energy efficiency,” he said.

“However, churches are not museums; they are living buildings which serve their communities every day of the week, and being greener isn’t about doing less, it’s about equipping parishes to get smarter about energy consumption.

“Setting a net zero target of 2045, five years ahead of the government’s target, would nonetheless represent a significant statement of intent by General Synod, one which will require innovation, faith and dedication from our churches, schools, and communities.

“Christians are called to safeguard God’s creation and sustain and renew the life of the Earth. Faced with the reality of catastrophic climate change, which will affect the world’s most vulnerable people the soonest, radical and immediate action is our only option.”

However, Christian Aid said the C of E should go further, pointing out that the National Farmers’ Union is planning for its entire sector to be net zero by 2040, and the UK water industry by 2030.

“On matters of morality and injustice, the church should be at the forefront, modelling a prophetic vision that gives hope to the poor and voiceless,” said Patrick Watt, the charity’s director of policy and public affairs. “People suffering at the hands of the climate crisis in the global south, including millions of Christian sisters and brothers, need institutions in the rich world to move rapidly to cut emissions.”

The synod motion requests progress reports every three years.

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