Clare Fussell, Diocesan Environmental Adviser for Bristol, shares how prayer, perseverance and action led the Diocese of Bristol to become the first in the Church of England to declare a climate emergency.
When the vote was passed unanimously, the room filled with cheers, applause and even a whistle or two. I’m no expert, but I’m told that it’s rare to hear whoops and whistles in the voting chambers of the Church of England; however, this was no usual meeting.
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. This important 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 have shaken up the campaigning landscape. In Bristol alone, we’ve seen the City Council, University and a wealth of local institutions from the Old Vic theatre 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. Declaring a climate crisis challenges each of our priorities and commits us to work together to respond to an emergency that has global reach.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 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.
We all know that urgent climate action is vital, but how did the cogs turn behind the scenes to drive this change? Well, partly it was down to prayer, partly down to growing understanding of our climate crisis across wider society, and partly down to perseverance!
Two years ago, a dedicated group of volunteers came together, met up on wintry evenings fuelled by copious cups of tea around the fire, and formed a plan to make climate action a top priority across our diocese, we then doggedly worked to bring others on board. This new Environment Group hosted an initial conference for churches and interested individuals to spread the word and gather input from across the diocese, and from that drafted an Environment and Climate Justice Policy to put before the Diocesan Synod, which is like the regional parliament for the Church of England. While Synods can be a bit dry at times, they are also super democratic and representative, are driven by prayerful and passionate people, and can do some amazing things – so well worth engaging with!
This new diocesan policy 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 lays out plans for more solar panels on church buildings and 100% renewable energy across the diocese. And this really paved the way for the unanimous declaration of a Climate Emergency, as it made decision makers aware of the scale of the problem and the ways in which we can tackle it together.
Together we really can make a difference.
The Diocese includes over 200 churches and community halls, and 72 schools which will be supported to transition to a low-carbon future as quickly as possible. Collectively we can make a significant difference in reducing the amount of carbon we’re responsible for releasing into the atmosphere. Just as importantly, 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.
The Bishop of Bristol, Vivian Faull, responded to the decision with the words:
'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 will send a strong message. We must all act now.'
Our united voice sends a strong message to the UK government that change is needed and desired.
Clare Fussell is the Diocesan Environmental Adviser for the Diocese of Bristol, which is the Church of England in Bristol, South Glos, Wiltshire and Swindon. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org