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Environmental Policy for the United Reformed Church

Adopted by General Assembly 2022 to take effect from January 2023.

Because of the urgency of the climate emergency, the focus for this policy is on reducing carbon emissions across the whole of church life. The most significant contributors to the URC’s carbon footprint are travel, buildings, energy use, and how investments are used.

General Assembly therefore instructs the committees and bodies under its control, and encourages associated bodies, synods and local churches to adopt as a minimum the following practices:

1. Targets and monitoring

a) Calculate and track the carbon footprint of key activities (such as energy use of buildings, travel and transport, and meetings).

b) Develop and implement an action plan for making annual reductions in this carbon footprint in order to reach net zero emissions by 2030.

2. Meetings

a) consider meeting physically less frequently and making greater use of videoconferencing

b) assess the environmental policies and credentials of the venues used for meetings and events

c) prioritise the accessibility of meeting locations for public transport.

3. Travel and transport

a) consider the necessity and benefits of all travel with regard to its environmental impact

b) give preference to using lower-carbon modes of transport, and offer incentives for doing so

c) introduce a carbon budget for international travel, with planned annual reductions

d) establish the principle that for travel undertaken within Europe, the default option should now be to travel by train, unless there is a compelling reason not to do so

e) bodies which are requiring or funding any travel on behalf of the URC should also cover the costs of offsetting the associated carbon emissions through an appropriate scheme (consult the URC website for recommended ways to do this).

4. Buildings

a) build environmental assessments into quinquennial surveys of buildings

b) investigate and where possible improve the levels of energy efficiency and environmental performance of buildings, including insulation, glazing, ventilation and heating and cooling systems, through refurbishment or replacement

c) ensure any buildings purchased have an Energy Performance rating of C or above, or are upgraded immediately after purchase to achieve this rating

d) implement measures to reduce energy use

e) support the generation of renewable energy – either on our own buildings or by investing in and cooperating with local community projects

f) choose green energy tariffs, from suppliers investing in new renewable energy generation, and pay to offset the carbon emissions of any unavoidable use of fossil fuels.

5. Investments1

a) not invest in fossil fuel companies whose total turnover is more than 10% derived from the extraction and/or supply of fossil fuels, including thermal coal, natural gas and oil

b) where possible, play a proactive role as investors, by engaging further with companies whose activities foster significant carbon emissions, for example the electricity and automotive industries, and producers of energy intensive products (eg cement)

c) support investment in renewable energy and clean technologies. 

6. Use and disposal of resources

a) reduce the use and consumption of unsustainable resources

b) work towards eliminating the use of single-use plastics, given their significant environmental impact

c) support and promote the reuse and recycling of materials

d) dispose of waste in ways that minimise its impact on the environment

e) reduce consumption of intensively produced meat and dairy products and other food with a high carbon footprint.

7. Worship, teaching and education

a) ensure that those serving and being prepared for service in the church are cognisant of the global and spiritual context of the climate crisis as well as the response required by our faith

b) compile, promote and use resources for worship and teaching related to environmental themes

c) provide, promote and use resources and campaigns that support churches and church members to reduce their environmental footprint.

8. Advocacy

a) advocate for action by government, industry and others to foster a deep, rapid and just transition towards a net zero carbon economy

b) urge the UK government to set targets and establish policies that will ensure a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so that net zero is achieved by well before 2050

c) campaign with others at local and national level for policies, targets and actions that take steps towards realising these goals

d) advocate for global climate justice and international financing mechanisms to be put in place to enable mitigation, adaptation and compensation for loss and damage.

1 These provisions reflect the Church’s current agreed Ethical Investment guidelines

The General Assembly of the United Reformed Church also:

1. Endorses and supports the Eco Church and Eco-Congregation Scotland programmes

2. Encourages Synods in England and Wales to

a) develop and implement plans to progress through the Eco Synod award levels, which involves includes adopting an environmental policy, having a certain number of Eco Churches in the synod, considering the environmental impact of buildings, land and investments, and embedding environmental issues in the life of the synod.

b) encourage and support local churches to achieve Eco Church status and progress through the award levels, celebrating successes and sharing stories.

c) appoint and empower one or more ‘Green Apostles’ to act as champions for the issue and offer support across the synod. 

3. Encourages the National Synod of Scotland to make equivalent commitments, working with Eco-Congregation Scotland.

4. Encourages local churches in England and Wales to achieve Eco Church status and progress through the award levels, which involves considering worship and teaching, management of church buildings and land, community and global engagement, and supporting members to look at their lifestyles.

5. Encourages local churches in Scotland to register and become members of Eco-Congregation and progress through the award levels, which involves looking at the broad areas of spiritual living, practical living and global living.

The full version of the Environmental Policy considered at General Assembly 2022 is available for reference on the URC website, as is Resolution 17 by which it was adopted. The paper also includes a statement of the policy’s theological and Biblical basis, a review of previous decisions and progress in this area, and a rationale for the proposals in the policy.

An enormous body of resources and initiatives have been developed to support local churches and other bodies in their environmental activities, the principal ones of which are listed at www.urc.org.uk/greenerchurch

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