Synod gives its backing to Net Zero Action Plan

June 8, 2023

The action plan to meet the Scottish Episcopal Church’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2030 was approved at the conclusion of the opening day of General Synod 2023.

Three years ago, Synod had recognised that urgent action was required in relation to the global climate emergency and that the church should work towards net zero emissions by 2030.

Today, the Provincial Environment Group (PEG) brought a net zero plan to Synod following a period of consultation, and Synod members were asked to affirm the direction of the plan.

Bishop Ian Paton, PEG convener, proposed the motion and described the objective as a “whole church challenge”.

In an introduction to the debate, he said: “The size of the challenge is complex and overwhelming, but we can make a difference if we act together. The Net Zero Action Plan provides a practical pathway for the whole church to follow. It has been the subject of consultation and discussion across the Province, including at Diocesan Synods and in webinars and presentations. This has allowed a wide range of views, expertise and experience to influence and shape it.”

The plan includes the appointment of a full-time Director of Net Zero, along with five Net Zero champions across the province who can help charges “on every step of the way”.

Bishop Ian also stressed that the plan is not just about harnessing new technology, “but about our own behaviour – about simply using less energy”.

Robert Woodford, a consultant to PEG who also addressed Synod last year, announced three new supporting resources which are to be introduced:

  1. An update to the Net Zero Toolkit, which continues to be the first port of call and central resource for churches. This will also become available as an online document, and it is anticipated the updated toolkit will be available by September 2023.
  2. Net Zero cards, which can be used to initiate and stimulate discussions within churches on their journey to net zero, outlining tasks associated with the ten core objectives of the action plan.
  3. Net Zero workshops, where small groups of non-technical stakeholders can get together to talk about the issues they face.

Synod was also asked to back a motion to request Standing Committee to approve appropriate funding to support implementation of the action plan.

When questions were invited from members, Synod heard an impassioned plea from the Rev Canon Dr James Currall (Moray, Ross & Caithness) for a reduction in consumption, which was applauded by Bishop Ian.

Martin Auld (Aberdeen & Orkney) also referred to concern about “non-sustainable patterns of consumption” while warning that complex strategies “are a barrier to people’s engagement” and asking for provision of case studies to encourage churches and build confidence about how to achieve their objectives.

How to best to use the church buildings was raised several times, with Louise Herbert (Brechin) asking if churches should sell rectories and replace them with more suitable alternatives – or even not have rectories – while Susan Rowe (Brechin) suggested opening church buildings to greater community use or moving out of them and into something more appropriate.

The most fundamental challenge to the plan came from Dr Stephen Goodyear (Aberdeen & Orkney), who questioned whether the plan was credible and doubted if proposed funding of up to £25m from public bodies would come to fruition, arguing that applications could fail because money would only be given when applications concerned buildings with high usage.

PEG members responded positively to each point, welcoming engagement and encouraging Synod members to accept the plan as a significant step on the journey to the overall objective.

“We set ourselves a vision in 2020,” said Bishop Ian before the two motions went to a vote, “and we are now at a point where we have to turn a vision into reality.”

Synod backed both motions with sizeable majorities, with the plan itself receiving 79 votes for, 11 against and 9 abstentions, while the approval of the provision of funding considered appropriate saw 74 vote for the motion, 15 against and 12 abstentions.

Before the debate took place, a vigil was held outside the Synod meeting at St Paul’s & St George’s in Edinburgh (pictured above), where climate activists encouraged Synod members to back the motions and congratulated the SEC “on modelling the way for other organisations by making safeguarding creation an integral part of your mission”.

Earlier in the afternoon session, Synod was guided through the accounts, budget and quota overview by Bridget Campbell, Convener of the Provincial Standing Committee, heard a presentation on the current state of play with investments from Mark Harris, Convener of the Investment Committee, before the College of Bishops updated Synod on their visit to the Lambeth Conference last year and the progress of the Lambeth Calls, with each bishop talking about how the church can live out the five marks of mission. Synod members then went into discussion groups to come up with questions for the College which, as the Primus said, “can help to give us an increased vision of what you want us to do. We’re here to begin a dialogue on what the church in Scotland should look like.” Questions submitted are to be answered by College on day two of Synod.

The College session was followed by a sobering and heartfelt account from Alistair Dinnie (Diocese of Edinburgh) about his role as a Scottish Episcopal Church representative on the Anglican Consultative Council as he stands down after seven years.

Alistair spoke movingly about the most recent meeting of the ACC in Ghana earlier this year, when delegates visited Cape Coast, where the Communion’s links to the slave trade “were laid horribly and viscerally bare”.

Reflecting on his work with the ACC over the past seven years, Alistair concluded: “Whatever the challenges, the Anglican Communion engages in vital work and encompasses a diversity which gives opportunity for conversation across nation, culture and language at a time when structures that enable that seem to be increasingly – even purposefully – under threat.

“In that context, my personal reflection is that perhaps the reason we are a communion matters less than the fact we make the active choice to be one. With God’s grace, may that be a choice we always make.”

Alistair’s full report can be read here.

Meanwhile, many Synod members dressed in black on the opening day of Synod to show support for the Thursdays In Black campaign, a global movement urging an end to violence against women, as shown in the main photo above.