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General Synod carries Oxford motion on the climate emergency

Bishop Olivia, supported by Mark Humphriss and Hannah Mann seated behind her, moves the Oxford motion on the climate emergencyThe Oxford Diocesan Synod motion, Responding to the Climate Emergency, has been overwhelmingly supported by General Synod following strong encouragement during the debate from representatives across the Church of England. The motion calls for the National Investment Bodies of the Church of England to scale up investment in renewable energy and other climate solutions and asks the Church to lobby the Government to review planning regulations to aid the installation of renewable technology on church buildings.

The motion was passed, as amended below. The motion was moved by Bishop Olivia Graham, who said "We have the rest of this decade to take decisive action. The motion challenges us in all areas of life, from finances to buildings and political advocacy. We must not kick this can down the road for future generations to deal with. There is no greater issue facing society today than runaway climate change. Our Church, with the level of resources, reach and influence we have must be on the frontline of the battle to save God’s creation.”

Scroll down the page for the transcript of Bishop Olivia's speech and closing comments. 

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) commend the recent disinvestment announcements by the Church Commissioners for England and Church of England Pensions Board, and urge each of the National Investing Bodies of the Church of England to prioritise and scale up investment in renewable energy and other climate solutions, in line with their fiduciary duties, and ask each to report back on progress to General Synod each quinquennium.

(b) urge all parts of the Church of England to review their relevant policies and procedures, in order to ensure that they are up to date and give due priority to creation care.; 

(c) urge 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) urge 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) commit earnestly and regularly to pray - and to promote prayer - about the climate and wider environmental crisis. 

(f) call 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. 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 
ii. 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. 
iii. commit expenditure, reflective of the £10 million committed by Oxford Diocese, on environmental works to improve the carbon footprint of vicarages.

(g) request that Bishops and the Liturgical Commission to encourage confirmation services to include an additional question ‘Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth?’ 

(h) ask that HM Government review the weight given to the environmental public benefit in planning regulations to facilitate the installation of renewable technologies, including for buildings that are listed or in conservation areas.’ 


The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham presented and moved the motion to Synod

"I’m really delighted to be here this morning presenting the Oxford Diocesan Motion on the environment, and incidentally making my maiden speech. How to get ten minutes as a maiden speech! It’s really good that the Oxford motion has risen to the top of the pile and will be exposed to the oxygen of this chamber for debate today, even though it is three years old and so it’s more a toddler than a baby.  

The motion you have before you was passed by the Oxford Diocesan Synod in March 2020, after a debate which has set the direction of travel and guided our actions as a diocese ever since. Progress has been good, but we know that we need to go further and faster. 

Synod, our debate today isn’t to discuss what Oxford has done, but to encourage lightning speed and significantly raise the ambition for what we, the Church, can and must achieve. The spirit of the motion before you is about asking much, much more of ourselves. Recognising that creation care is more than a programme  - it’s a way of living, being, of worshipping. 

Let me set this motion in context. It’s simply this; an existential planetary crisis, faced by the human race and many other species due to human action and inaction, particularly in the past 30 years. This is on us.

Now you may be familiar with the climate stripes... the climate stripes were created by Professor Ed Hawkins at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in 2018. 

This data set is for Berkshire, where I live, and each stripe represents a year. The data set begins in 1863, and goes through to 2022. The blue stripes show years in which the average temperature for the year has been below the average temperature for the period. The red stripes show years in which the average temperature for the year has been above the average temperature for the period. 

You might like to note the year 1990, it’s where the stripes start to turn red. The last stripe is for the year 2022, a year in which the UK saw temperatures of more than 40 degrees for the first time. This stripe is not quite as dark as 2021 – and that’s because we were in a La Nina phase in the Pacific which helped to hold temperatures down. When we see a return of a neutral or warming phase of El Nino, the very darkest red stripes will return. And we know that an El Nino phase has just begun in the Pacific.

 Professor Hawkins says this:

"The message is clear. Excess heat is building up across the planet at a rate unprecedented in the history of humanity. If you think how hot 2022 was, and then realise that those 12 months will likely be one of the coolest years of the rest of our lives… we will regret not having acted sooner."

The reports and warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are equally stark. We MUST limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and our window for action is rapidly closing.

The independent Committee on Climate Change here in the UK concurs. Their recent report is very critical of the pace of action by our government, which they say is ‘worrying slow’.  

And the signs from Westminster, friends, are not at all good:

  • Lord Deben, the outgoing Committee Chair called the decision to approve the UK’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years ‘total nonsense’, and he was damning about plans to approve the Rosebank oilfield off the coast of Scotland. How, he asked, can we ask countries in Africa to not to develop oil; how can we ask other nations to not expand their fossil fuel production if we start doing it ourselves? 

  • Alok Sharma, who was Chair of the COP26 has said that the UK is at risk of losing its ‘international reputation and influence on climate’, that we risk falling behind without a response like the US’s vast subsidies for green industries.  

  • Zac Goldsmith, resigned two weeks ago, citing government apathy and the Prime Minister’s apparent disinterest in climate change as the cause. 

  • Just a few days beforehand, it was reported that our government is drawing up plans to drop the UK’s flagship £11.6bn climate and nature funding pledge. And on Sunday, it was claimed that Sir Keir Starmer ‘hates the tree huggers’

As our politicians row back to appease extreme elements on the back benches, there are ever more solid and compelling evidences of the extreme dangers we are in. Last week the UN secretary general said that “climate change is out of control”, as an unofficial analysis of world temperatures showed the hottest week on record. 

As our planet heats up, as tipping points are passed and interact with each other, as species go extinct, as water resources become scarcer, as increasingly large parts of the planet become simply uninhabitable for human beings… mass movements of people will begin. There could be as many as 1.2 billion climate refugees by the end of this century. 

We should be very, very concerned about instability that will be created by intense heat, water shortages and crop failures. We all want to know that our grandchildren will grow up in a stable and habitable world, but this climate crisis reaches well beyond self interest. This is, self-evidently, an issue which has injustice and inequality at its core, intersecting with every other part of our mission as Christian disciples, affecting first and catastrophically the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. 

This is a bleak picture, my friends. And I paint it not to be alarmist, but to concentrate our minds. The Bible has much to say on God’s love for this world;  on the responsibility God gives to human beings to care for nature;  and on  nature’s provision for human beings.  And right now God’s people have a heck of a lot of work to do.  

In 2020 this Synod passed a motion setting a net zero target for the Church of England of 2030. It was a bold and ambitious target, and some would say, foolhardy. But we have resoundingly endorsed the routemap to Net Zero Carbon to achieve this ambitious goal.  
The milestones contained within it -  such as changes to our faculty jurisdiction rules - are already being enacted.

  • The recent and very welcome announcement from the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board on divestment, is the outworking of the amended Oxford motion carried by Synod in 2018. Friends, never let it be said that Synod lacketh teeth.

  • Those divestments demanded by Synod just five years ago have had an impact far beyond our shores. We have given a clear and unambiguous message that we share the conviction of the International Energy Agency that net zero is not compatible with the continued development of fossil fuel fields.

  • We have dedicated people leading on environmental work, in our dioceses, in our parishes at the NCIs and we have great partners such as the Woodland Trust and A’Rocha. 

  • We have a high functioning national Environment Working Group, chaired by bishop Graham Usher. All 42 of our dioceses are signed up to Eco Church. We have a committed funding stream from the Church Commissioners and a new Board set up to oversee our transition to net zero. We have informed and committed bishops in the House of Lords. 

There is much to give thanks for. But friends, we are just off the starting blocks. We must go further. We must go faster. All of us: individually, as churches, as communities, as dioceses, as the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, and with people of goodwill from all denominations and faith communities. 

We have only the rest of this decade to take decisive action. It’s a very small window. The motion before you seeks to challenge us in all areas of life, from finances to buildings and political advocacy: we need the National Investing Bodies to be investing at scale in renewable energy and climate solutions, doing everything we can in our dioceses and parishes to get to net zero, and asking every Christian in every church to pray for change and to lobby their MPs as we ramp up to a General Election. 

We must not kick this can down the road for future generations to deal with. There is no greater issue facing society today than runaway climate change. Our Church, with the level of resources, reach and influence WE have MUST be on the frontline of the battle for the sake of every beloved part of God’s creation.


Bishop Olivia gave the following closing remarks following the Synod debate before the motion was carried:

"I thank the Synod for an excellent and engaged debate. The science is clear, and scientists estimate that the Earth hasn’t been this hot for about 125,000 years. We’re not talking about saving the planet: we’re talking about saving the human race and many other species... let us be in no doubt, Synod, that we cannot invent or spend our way out of this crisis. It is going to need us to change...

This Synod is a legislative chamber. It is also a fellowship of faith, a place of shared prayer, and hope, and spiritual inspiration. The issues which face us are deeply spiritual ones: they have to do with facing into our sinfulness in the way we have misused and mistreated this beautiful blue-green marble floating in space which is our God-given single planet home, mistreating it through our greed, our indifference, our apathy.  

We must recognise that we live lives in which we want much more than we need, and that we have been, for decades, programmed to do this. We have lost our ability to know how much is enough. We must wake up, and we must change. We must pray and we must act. We must lobby and we must influence in every context in which we are able to do this."


Notes for editors
  • The motion was clearly carried by General Synod. Those in favour: 256, against: 36, abstentions 16.
  • Bishop Olivia's speech can be viewed on YouTube. She is available for interview. Contact Steven Buckley, Director of Communications, 07824 906839, to arrange.
What has the Diocese of Oxford done so far?
  • The Diocesan Synod declared a Climate Emergency in March 2020 and is committed reaching net zero target carbon emission by 2035 or as soon as possible thereafter.
  • In 2021, the diocese completed its divestment from fossil fuels.
  • A leading advocate of fossil fuel divestment within the national Church, in April 2021 Bishop Steven was among 13 peers appointed to the Lords Select Committee for the environment and climate change. Bishop Steven has previously called for "nothing less than an ecological conversion of every person and every part of society".
  • The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, is a member of the Church of England Environmental Task Group. Bishop Olivia was present at COP26 in Glasgow last year, where she said; “Leaders from all faiths are on the same page about climate chaos and environmental crises.”
  • Church House Oxford is powered by renewable electricity. All four bishops in the diocese drive electric vehicles.
  • The newly completed Berkshire Area Office, built next to a Grade 1 listed church, is constructed to the best possible energy efficiency standards.
  • 127 churches have undertaken energy audits subsidised by the diocese, and currently 153 churches in the diocese have registered with the Eco Church scheme.
  • Added a new question to the commissioning in baptism and confirmation services, based on the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission committing to safeguarding the integrity of creation. 
  • The diocese is currently a bronze eco-diocese and is working to achieve silver status from A'Rocha
  • The diocese has recently completed the first retrofit, part of a £10m investment plan for all vicarages, and now has a net zero vicarage, the projected cost for which was £77,800
Our six-point strategy for the environment: 
  • Increasing holistic care for creation through Eco Church and Eco Diocese 
  • Ensuring that everyone has access to resources for prayer, advocacy, and action.
  • Nurturing everyday faith and discipleship and creating clear leadership pathways.
  • Promoting resilience as churches, schools and communities increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change.
  • Achieving our net zero targets – which is happening across a range of different activities
  • Ensuring alignment with the call for justice and working in partnership wherever we can.
Page last updated: Tuesday 11th July 2023 2:03 PM
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