Last summer, bishops at Lambeth called on Anglicans around the world to do more for the environment. What is the Anglican Church of Canada doing?
Sixth instalment of Hearing the Lambeth Calls, a 10-part series on the calls to the global Anglican Communion made at the 2022 Lambeth Conference. This month’s call: Environment and sustainable development.
Anglican leaders in Canada may find themselves traveling less after General Synod meets this summer—and spurring parishes to make their buildings more environmentally friendly.
In March, Council of General Synod (CoGS) sent three environment-related motions to General Synod, on moving toward net-zero carbon emissions in the Anglican Church of Canada; addressing climate change; and ensuring clean and safe drinking water.
The motion on moving toward net zero would encourage all parts of the Anglican Church of Canada to discern what gatherings would benefit from face-to-face interactions and ensure physical meetings are accessible by public transit and “active transit” such as bicycles and walking, while continuing to offer ways for people to participate online.
General Synod would also direct CoGS to seek ways to reduce travel if possible for staff members, CoGS and its committees, General Synod and the House of Bishops; to report back on these efforts regularly and at General Synod 2025; and to purchase carbon offsets for such travel if necessary. All Canadian Anglicans would be encouraged to purchase carbon offsets for their own travel.
The second motion would have General Synod declare, “in solidarity with the most vulnerable of our society”, that there is a global climate emergency. General Synod would encourage Anglican parishes to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help Canada reach a target of keeping global temperature increases at or below 1.5 C. It would endorse a “broad-based approach to investing which considers people, society, and the environment as important as financial performance”, encourage all parishes to publicize their efforts to address the climate crisis, and request the Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice (PWSEJ) coordinating committee to report progress back to CoGS annually and to General Synod 2025.
The motion on water would affirm that all communities have the right to safe, clean, sustainable drinking water and commit General Synod to ongoing advocacy to ensure safe drinking water for all. It would direct CoGS to immediately eliminate bottled water use at all meetings, except in situations where safe drinking water is not available, while encouraging ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes to do the same.
Echoing a global call to Anglicans
The motions echo a concern for the environment expressed at last summer’s Lambeth Conference, a meeting of 650 bishops from across the worldwide Anglican Communion. They issued 10 ‘This is still God’s world’calls—statements laying out priorities for the Communion—and gave the sixth a focus on environment and sustainable development.
The text of the call refers to the world’s beauty and the many crises it now faces, including environmental destruction, but adds, “this is still God’s world and God calls us to respond as Easter people: bearers of hope.” Citing the Five Marks of Mission, this Lambeth call describes both “human well-being and creation care” as missional imperatives for Anglicans.
The document calls on the Anglican Communion’s key institutions to “support commitments to tackle urgently the triple environmental crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” which it called “an existential threat to millions of people and specials of plants animals across the globe.”
It also appeals to Anglicans at all levels to equip communities to withstand and recover from disasters; to join in the Communion Forest initiative, which seeks to “protect and restore forests and other ecosystems” and promote tree planting; to remove funds for new fossil fuel exploration and invest in renewable energy sources; and to further embed in church life the Five Marks of Mission. And it urges world leaders to enact “bold policy changes” that include reaching net-zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.
Ryan Weston, the Anglican Church of Canada’s lead animator for PWSEJ who presented the motions that came before CoGS this March, says the Lambeth call is an affirmation and encouragement of the Anglican Church of Canada’s work to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. He notes that it includes statements directed to the Communion as a whole; priorities for parishes, dioceses, and provinces to focus on; and demands of government leaders. Together, Weston says, these allow flexibility for how Anglicans engage with the environmental issues it identifies.
“It does recognize that [the crises need] to be tackled at every level,” Weston says of the Lambeth call. “I think it’s a call to action for us … from our brothers and sisters and siblings in the other parts of the church who are often more directly impacted by these crises than many of us might be in Canada.”
Addressing CoGS on the motion, Scott Wicks-Potter, youth member for the ecclesiastical province of Canada, supported putting a date on efforts by the church to reduce carbon emissions. He referred specifically to calls by the United Nations for countries to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels by 2030, with a goal of reaching net zero by 2050.
Michael Siebert, lay member for the province of Rupert’s Land, questioned use of the term “climate emergency” and said he had read material with differing views on how serious the situation is. Siebert cited the work of Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of a public letter that warns of “overemphasizing the likelihood of calamity” and argues that less severe climate models are more plausible.
Pielke is “saying we actually in some sense have more time than we thought on the more extreme scenarios,” Siebert said. “It’s just good to acknowledge what the realistic timelines for climate issues are actually going to be.”
Weston responded by pointing to an explanatory note attached to the motion, which cited, among other things, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change release of “yet another dire warning for the planet in 2021” and calls from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch for world leaders to “listen to the cry of the Earth” and address climate change.
The creation matters working group (CMWG), a subgroup of the PWSEJ coordinating committee, is responsible for formulating sustainable environmental policies across the Anglican Church of Canada. Working group member Sue Carson says “the wording of the Lambeth call helps CMWG as it gives validation to our mandate, to care for our world and follow the fifth Mark of Mission… The calls encourage sharing and working together and this hasn’t always been something I have felt.”
Carson, who is also a member of Climate Justice Niagara, a diocesan initiative, says she doesn’t think the Anglican Church of Canada has done enough to encourage divestment from fossil fuel companies—but thinks this is mainly because divestment is largely under the jurisdiction of individual dioceses.
The diocese of Niagara “has had ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance] investments for 10 years,” Carson says. “But the time is right to ask our synod to be even more proactive in divesting from the companies and those banks that fund companies who are wrecking our world.”
Some Anglican groups in Canada have been striving to reduce carbon emissions by focusing on individual church buildings. Many dioceses have partnered with the Anglican-led Net Zero Churches project, co-founded by Carson and Mark Gibson, also chair of the diocese of Montreal’s stewardship of the environment committee.
Partnering dioceses with educational institutions, Net Zero Churches provides advice for congregations to reduce carbon emissions with the goal of eliminating them altogether, by changing mechanical systems and reducing energy use. Net Zero Churches began in January 2022. By that fall, it involved four Anglican dioceses and had estimated collective greenhouse gas emissions from 14 Anglican churches at 200 tonnes per year—an amount that came as a shock, Gibson told the Journal at the time.
Since September, the project has doubled the number of congregations involved in the diocese of Niagara, expanded to include its first Roman Catholic diocese and is in further discussions with Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Baptists.
“We are helping dioceses and congregations to actually do what the [Lambeth] call is calling us to,” Gibson says. “We are saying it is possible and we have examples of how it’s been done by other people… It’s exciting to see how many congregations really want to make it real. They just don’t know how. We’re showing them how.”
The Rev. Joyce Parry-Moore, minister for climate justice in the diocese of New Westminster, has been in discussions with Gibson about Net Zero Churches. The diocese is also working with Seth Klein, team lead for the Climate Emergency Unit project of the David Suzuki Foundation, to figure out how to reduce emissions in church buildings, which Parry-Moore calls “a measurable, important impact we can make.” For Parry-Moore, the Lambeth call draws attention to the need for a global point of view as well as a local one when it comes to environmental protection and sustainable development.
The diocese of New Westminster is also home to Salal + Cedar, a ministry focused on ecological issues through mutual aid and solidarity. It is currently engaged in projects to enhance wildlife habitat on church property, as well as mobilizing with other groups against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
The Rev. Laurel Dykstra, priest in charge of Salal + Cedar, says that while the Lambeth call will not have a great impact on the day-to-day work of this ministry, she is encouraged by its existence.
“Broadly, I think that it is a good thing that the Communion or the Instruments of Communion are interested in being a credible voice around climate and climate justice,” she says. “They’re not part of religious movements of climate [change] denial which are a real thing in North America, a real thing globally. That’s important.