When the vote was passed unanimously, the room filled with cheers, applause and even a whistle or two. Now Im no expert in synodical processes, but Im told that its rare to hear whoops and whistles in the voting chamber of the diocese however, this was no usual Synod.
The cheers were because the Diocese of Bristol had just declared a climate emergency and become the first in the UK to commit to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 (20 years earlier than the aim of the national church). This ground-breaking announcement comes as the wider world seems to be waking up to the severity of the climate crisis. Over the past year Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have become household names, and in Bristol alone we've seen the City Council, University and a wealth of local institutions from the Old Vic to the Colston Hall all declaring a climate emergency recently.
But this is not about jumping on a band wagon, or being the first past the post. As Revd David Stephenson, vicar of St Paul's and Cotham Parish Church, who brought the motion to debate at the Synod, puts it: Declaring Climate Crisis challenges our own priorities and commits us as churches to work with others to respond to an emergency with global reach. Declaration is calling to others; it is also commitment to ourselves and to the gospel.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (an independent board of over 1000 scientists) warns we have fewer than 11 years to drastically alter our path and reduce carbon emissions before it will be too late to avoid catastrophic climate change. And as Christians, we are driven to urgent action by our love for our neighbour, for our world, and for our creator God.
Bishop Viv responded to the decision with the words: Care for God's creation is key to our Christian faith. Climate change hits our poorest global neighbours first and worst, exacerbating migration, conflict over resources and the spread of disease. By declaring Climate Emergency, our practical action and collection voice will send a strong message. We must all act now.
There is a shared commitment across the diocese and DAC to provide support to all churches to transition to a low-carbon future as quickly as possible. Collectively we can make a significant difference in reducing the amount of carbon were responsible for releasing into the atmosphere. With 18,000 people regularly worshipping at our churches, we have a real opportunity to engage, inspire and help people make changes in their own lives. Our practical action and collective voice sends a strong message to our governments that change is needed and desired.
The Climate Emergency declaration is supported by a new diocesan Environment and Climate Justice Policy that covers energy use and generation, travel, investments, plastics, procurement and recycling, advocacy and campaigning and integrating care for the environment into prayer and worship. It includes plans for more solar panels on church buildings and 100% renewable energy across the diocese.
Four simple ways your church can respond are:
1. Join together in prayer for our earth this Sunday (24th November): as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, all churches across the Diocese of Bristol are invited to share in a collective time of prayer.
2. Work towards an Eco Church award: https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/
3. Adopt Saying yes to life as your church's Lent focus in 2020, using the Lent course, daily reflections and book to focus on the environment: www.churchofengland.org/livelent and https://spckpublishing.co.uk/saying-yes-to-life
4. Attend our day conference on Church Action in a Climate Emergency on 21st March 2020.