12

Jul

2023

Church of England General Synod Report

 

This past weekend, Operation Noah joined members of the Church of England General Synod in York. Among the important business discussed, the Church’s response to the climate crisis was a key theme at the 7-11 July Synod. 

In addition to the Church of England issuing major reports on investments and land use, Synod members overwhelmingly approved a sweeping environmental motion put forward by the Diocese of Oxford that urged investment in renewable energy. The motion also called for further theological training in creation care for lay and ordained people, and asked the UK Government to review its planning regulations ‘to facilitate the installation of renewable technologies’ for listed buildings and in conservation areas. 

Despite lacking measurable targets – such as requiring the National Investing Bodies to scale up investment in renewable energy and other climate solutions to at least 10% of assets under management by 2030, as Synod member Cathy Rhodes has called for in a Private Members Motion which has yet to be considered by Synod – the Oxford motion was significant. 

The amendment, combined with the fact that the CofE’s National Investing Bodies announced their divestment from fossil fuels late last month, shows the seriousness with which the Church is approaching the climate and nature crises. 

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Synod welcomed the recent announcement from the Church of England’s National Investing Bodies that they would divest from all oil and gas companies. Synod members acknowledged the decision to divest had received global media coverage and that the pace of change by the oil and gas industry had been wholly inadequate given the urgency of the climate crisis. 

First Church Estates Commissioner Alan Smith and Chair of the Pensions Board, Clive Mather, presented the National Investing Bodies Approach to Climate Change and responded to questions from Synod. 

After the presentation, the reasons behind the Church of England’s decision to divest from all oil and gas companies were clearer, which included:

  • Recent roll-backs by oil and gas companies on climate targets 
  • Poor governance 
  • Insufficient investment in renewable energy by oil managers 
  • Continued exploration for oil and gas, in defiance of international warnings 
  • Fossil fuels being a high-risk investment given the potential for stranded assets 

You can watch the presentation here

Some General Synod members called on Church of England dioceses which have yet to divest from fossil fuel companies to follow the example of the National Investing Bodies. And indeed, during Synod, the Diocese of York – which until recently still had investments in fossil fuels – announced that it had divested
Responses to questions to General Synod are available here, with questions 204 and 205 specifically related to climate.

Investment in Climate Solutions

The phrase ‘climate solutions’ was used 9 times in the National Investing Bodies Approach to Climate Change report, which includes analysis from the Church Commissioners, the Pensions Board, and from CCLA which manages the Church of England’s CBF Funds. 

Operation Noah’s Church investment in Climate Solutions: Investing in a Liveable Future report includes a case study on the Church Commissioners, which currently has investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and forestry as well as plans to develop net zero homes. 

The Pensions Board had nearly £120 million invested in climate solutions or green revenues in 2022, while the CBF Funds have low-carbon investments in wind, solar, battery storage and energy efficiency assets. 

There were calls at Synod for the National Investing Bodies to continue these investments and to invest even more of their portfolio in climate solutions, as expressed in the motion from the Diocese of Oxford, which passed overwhelmingly. 

The Oxford motion urged each of the National Investing Bodies (NIBs) of the Church of England to prioritise and scale up investment in renewable energy and other climate solutions, and asked the NIBs to report back on the progress they’ve made to General Synod every five years. 

In responding to a question on climate solutions, First Church Estates Commissioner Alan Smith said, ‘We continue to believe that there are very attractive investment returns available from good climate solutions investments’. 

You can watch his presentation here

Church Land Use

There were two items of business on the General Synod agenda which had particular relevance to our Bright Now campaign. These were the motion brought by the Diocese of Oxford, which called for the Church to scale up investment in renewable energy and climate solutions, and a motion specifically related to land and nature brought by Revd Dr Mark Betson, National Public Policy Advisor. However, due to other business, the land and nature motion was unfortunately postponed and is now likely to be discussed at Synod in February 2024.

There were also a number of relevant questions asked by Synod members in advance which connect to Church land issues (see Q133-137 and Q213-216).

The Oxford motion was a highlight of Synod, and is a thorough presentation of the responsibility held by all parts of the Church of England to care for creation and tackle the climate and nature crises. It was originally proposed in April 2020 and it is pleasing to see that some progress has already been made on some of the items proposed. To this end, two additional papers have already been shared, one by the Oxford diocese proposers and one by the National Environment Officer Jo Chamberlain and the Net Zero Programme Director Julian Atkins.

The proposer of the land and nature motion was also the main speaker at a Synod Fringe event called Managing Church Land for Biodiversity and Climate. This was only open to Synod members but we understand that the main discussion related to the content of the motion as well as sharing a new document just published by the Church Commissioners called, Our Approach to Sustainability for Real Assets. This document discusses four sub-portfolios of the Church Commissioners’ £2.5 billion overall land portfolio: Farmland, Sustainable Forestry, Development Land and Built Environment and Infrastructure. It’s positive to see more transparency about Church land, which was one of the challenges identified in our Church Land and the Climate Crisis report – identifying where this land was and what type of land it was. 

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