General Synod passes ecological justice resolutions

General Synod debates a resolution on moving toward net-zero carbon emissions in the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: Jim Tubman
Published July 12, 2023

The 43rd General Synod passed resolutions July 1 on moving toward net-zero carbon emissions in the Anglican Church of Canada, addressing the global climate emergency and affirming the right to clean drinking water while eliminating bottled water use.

Moving toward net zero

The Rev. Marnie Peterson of the diocese of New Westminster, speaking on behalf of the creation matters working group, which wrote the resolution, moved Resolution A203 on moving toward net zero. Also known as carbon neutrality, net-zero involves reducing carbon-dioxide emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

Peterson said much of the resolution had been put into practice over the 2019-2023 quadrennium due to the need to meet online during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We want to encourage these learnings to continue by paying attention to the climate crisis and the impact particularly of air travel,” Peterson said. “Our hope is that we can encourage people to be intentional about the choices that they make as committees to attend to the work that they have before them.”

A203 encourages members of the Anglican Church of Canada to live out the Fifth Mark of Mission and baptismal covenant, which calls on Anglicans to “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” It encourages all parts of the church to discern what meetings benefit from face-to-face interaction and how often; to attend to non-monetary costs of travel such as loss of time, environmental impact and stress; to ensure where possible that physical meetings are accessible by public transit, bicycles and walking; and to continue offering ways for people to participate online.

The resolution further directs Council of General Synod (CoGS) to seek to reduce the carbon impact of travel for meetings of General Synod, CoGS and its committees—such as by holding online and hybrid meetings or choosing travel options with lower carbon emissions—and to report on these efforts regularly and to the next General Synod in 2025. It directs CoGS to purchase carbon offsets for “such travel as is deemed still to be necessary, using offset initiatives of Indigenous communities where possible” and encourages Canadian Anglicans, ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes to purchase carbon offsets for their own travel.

The Rev. Michael Shapcott, of the diocese of Kootenay, seconded the resolution. As executive director of the Sorrento Centre, an Anglican retreat in the Shuswap region of B.C., Shapcott described his experience with wildfires that scientists have linked to hotter and drier weather fueled by the climate crisis.

“At the Sorrento Centre, in addition to being in one of the most beautiful places in Canada and experiencing the grace of God in the water and the clouds and everything around us, we also have in the past few years experienced some catastrophic incidents,” Shapcott said. “Two years ago our centre turned from being a retreat centre to being an emergency evacuation centre for people fleeing from wildfires.”

Shapcott recalled standing in the Sorrento Centre’s outdoor chapel, preaching with an “inner channeling of St. Francis about the beauty of the world … and the greening force of nature. Meanwhile, the skies were dark and ashes were falling out of the sky.” He said the church needed to have a climate change agenda and called Resolution A203 “a good first step in that direction.”

‘We’ve got to start somewhere’

Some General Synod members who spoke against the resolution, such as Freda Lepine of the diocese of Brandon, came from more northern and remote communities. They cited a greater need to travel by gasoline-powered vehicles due to long distances between communities, as well as poor internet access in many areas.

“In the North we have to travel by vehicle and airplane and winter roads with Ski-Doos … Then there are some communities that don’t even have the technology yet to be able to be online,” Lepine said.

“In many of our communities, the only ones that have internet access are the RCMP, the schools and the nursing stations and maybe the conservation officers. Even in my own hometown, which is only 100 kilometres from Thompson, you see kids standing outside the nursing station so they can get on the Wi-Fi.”

Peterson had earlier acknowledged that “some committees are limited by slow or limited access to the internet and … it can in some circumstances be necessary to travel, particularly for more remote communities and for the Indigenous church in particular, but also for working groups and committees to meet in person to build community and deepen relationships.”

“We want these choices to be intentional rather than by default,” she added. “This could be also an opportunity for better resourced dioceses to help with this initiative by purchasing carbon offsets for more remote or less resourced” dioceses.

Bishop John Stephens of the diocese of New Westminster backed Resolution A203 even while saying it did not go far enough, but added, “We’ve got to start somewhere.”

“If we look around the room at the young people who are gathered here and the world that they are going to inherit from many of us, we need to be paying attention to how we live in this world and how we continue to destroy this world,” Stephens said.

“We’re in a climate emergency … [I’m] very appreciative of what this [resolution] is, but it doesn’t feel like an emergency response … What I would encourage is that churches are looking at their own carbon footprint and how to reduce the carbon that is being used.” He encouraged General Synod to support A203, “but also to see it only very much as a starting place.” The resolution carried.

Addressing the climate emergency

Bishop Susan Bell of the diocese of Niagara moved Resolution A204, which declared, “in solidarity with the most vulnerable of our society, that there is worsening global climate emergency” and encouraged all Anglican Church of Canada members to make safeguarding creation a priority. It called on parishes to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to help Canada keep global temperature increases at or below 1.5 C, a global target outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Resolution A204 endorsed “a broad-based approach to investing which considers people, society, and the environment as important as financial performance.” It encouraged parishes to publicize their efforts as a demonstration of the church’s commitment to address the climate crisis and requested the public witness for social and ecological justice coordinating committee to report progress to CoGS annually and to General Synod 2025.

In moving the resolution, Bell cited the group Climate Justice Niagara in her own diocese as an example of work on the ground to address the climate emergency. The diocese of Niagara has also partnered with the diocese of Montreal to spearhead the Anglican-led Net Zero Churches project, which seeks to help churches reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from their buildings to zero by changing mechanical systems and reducing energy use. To date, Bell said, 10 Anglican and Lutheran dioceses and one Roman Catholic diocese are participating in Net Zero Churches.

“I’ve been told time and again by politicians and leaders in the climate movement, including Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and renowned climate scientist and Christian Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, that voices from faith communities are not only respected, but they are essential in the advocacy needed to change the direction of this crisis,” Bell said.

“Our efforts today across our church have been commendable, but we can and we must do more. Together we must harness the love we share for our neighbours and continue to find ways to join with others in a universal and collective action for the good of the world that God loves so much.” Resolution A204 carried.


National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Chris Harper moved Resolution A205, which affirmed that “all communities have the right to safe, clean, and sustainable drinking water” and committed General Synod to ongoing advocacy to ensure safe drinking water for all communities, both in Canada and globally.

The resolution also directed CoGS, its councils and committees to “immediately eliminate bottled water use for all meetings, except in locations where safe drinking water is unavailable” and encouraged ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes to do the same.

Dean Tim Dobbin of the diocese of Niagara seconded the resolution.

He reminded members that General Synod in 2019 passed a resolution supporting the United Nations sustainable development goals, one of which aims to ensure availability of sustainable water and sanitation management for all. “The fact that so many of our First Nations communities do not enjoy access to safe drinking water, frankly, is a scandal in a country as well-resourced as ours,” Dobbin said.

The previous General Synod, he added, also passed a resolution encouraging all parts of the Anglican Church of Canada to eliminate single-use plastic products in churches by 2033. Dobbin linked bottled water to lack of access to clean drinking water.

“Even as parts of our beloved country face drought, we continue to deplete our [waters] by licensing more bottled water facilities,” Dobbin said. “These rapacious companies usually pay a pittance for the water and then sell it on for unconscionable profit and often in other countries. This is not to mention the significant carbon footprint created through the manufacture, transportation and disposal” of plastic bottles, he added.

Bishop Joey Royal of the diocese of the Arctic spoke in favour of the resolution, though he thought it should be “firmer and more specific” in terms of the church’s commitments. He shared his experience living in Iqaluit, Nunavut in October 2021 when the city declared a state of emergency due to contamination of its water supply. Senior administrative officer Amy Elgersma said the city suspected “some type of petroleum product” had entered the water supply.

“We had months where drinking water was contaminated with hydrocarbons in a capital city in Canada—months,” Royal said.

“We still haven’t gotten answers as to why exactly that happened,” he added. “I don’t know if we ever will. And that’s a problem all across northern Indigenous communities.”

The Rev. Martha Spence of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh spoke about the lack of clean water in her community of Split Lake (Tataskweyak) and other parts of northern Manitoba.

“Our water, our river, the lakes—we can’t even drink it,” Spence said. “Our children cannot even swim anymore. Not many of us could have a swimming pool for our children and it’s very sad … The water is killing us also because it’s been destroyed.”

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said she appreciated especially “the Indigenous voices who’ve pointed to how this issue touches them directly.” Voting followed and Resolution A205 carried.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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