The Synod Climate Strategy
In July 2019, the NSW and ACT Synod agreed to adopt a new strategy to combat climate change. As well as working to curb the church’s own carbon emissions, the plan includes efforts to campaign for better government policies, and to support efforts such as the youth-led School Strike 4 Climate (making the Uniting Church the first major institution to endorse the effort).
As Insights has previously reported, the plan tasks a number of working groups with overseeing these initiatives. While COVID-19 has meant that the working groups needed to readjust, the Synod’s climate change strategy is still underway. Insights caught up with some of the group convenors to see how their work is progressing.
Daniel Andrew is the Synod Office’s Director of Operations. He coconvenes the Synod Emissions Task Group, which focuses on reducing emissions from the Synod’s operations. Mr Andrew told Insights that, despite COVID-19, the Synod’s climate strategy remained on track.
“There have been a number of developments worth highlighting, including the emissions reduction working group preparing a paper for Synod Standing Committee approval that will allow the fleet to be carbon neutral by 2023,” he said.
“The group is also looking for ways to increase our green power options, our green building standards, and supply chain.”
The next project he highlighted is an upcoming large site emissions competition. Organisations will be asked to design a carbon-neutral solution for the Centre for Ministry, and the Centre will implement the winning design.
The Synod Emissions task group is also currently working on a report on the viability of solar farm investment, as well as drafting a theology and values paper.
Once this work is completed, the Emissions task group will move on to developing policies on airline flights and use of conferencing platforms as another way that the Synod can reduce its carbon emissions.
The 2019 Synod meeting resolved to support initiatives taken by young people in advocating for action on climate change, including the global climate strikes. This included the School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) rally held in September 2019 and the online rally held on 15 May. The Climate Action Task Group is responsible for supporting and helping coordinate this activism.
Dr Miriam Pepper is one of those involved. While the work remains underway, Dr Pepper admitted that COVID-19 had affected the situation.
“COVID-19 has meant that some things, like rallies, haven’t been possible,” she said. “We’ve needed to adjust our plans,” she said.
“But we can take action to live lightly on the earth and to advocate for a better future. It is critically important to respond to both the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis.”
In particular, she highlighted the Synod’s support of the 25 September ‘Build Our Future’ event as a focal point for this task group. The event was a collaboration between SS4C, SEED Indigenous Youth Climate Network, and others. The event covered the theme “COVID-19 recovery funds should not be spent on gas and other damaging fossil fuel projects.”
According to event organisers, these funds should instead be spent on: “Resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions that guarantee land rights and care for country.
“The creation of jobs that fast-track solutions to the climate crisis and help communities recover “Projects that transition our economy and communities to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, through expanded public ownership.”
CLIMATE PASTORAL CARE GROUP PROMOTES SUCCESSFUL CLIMATE EVENT
The Climate Anxiety and Pastoral Care Group looks at the way in which climate change contributes to mental health issues.
This group recently helped plan the Climate Pastoral Care Conference jointly supported by Uniting, Common Grace and the Five Leaf Eco Awards. The event, which took place from 30 July to 1 August, was an online conference conducted via Zoom.
The event saw some 180 people attend, which represents three times the number of people who attended a similar conference in 2019.
The task group has also developed:
- A Climate Conversation Guide Resource: how to personally reflect on and speak with others about concerns about climate change.
- Kids and Creation: Helping kids find solace in nature during COVID-19 (and beyond) and other resources, available here.
CHURCH AND INDIVIDUAL EMISSIONS GROUP CONTINUES
The Church and Individual Emissions task group looks into ways that Uniting Church members can collectively and individually cut carbon emissions. It has met six times and currently has eight members. Uniting Social Justice Advocate Jon O’Brien convenes this task group. He told Insights that the group was “working well” and that “people are putting their hands up.”
While COVID-19 presented challenges, online meeting formats meant people from across the Synod able to participate in the group. “Zoom meetings are a great equaliser in terms of participation,” he said.
“If it works, it reduces the tyranny of distance and time really well.”
The task group promotes the Five Leaf Eco Awards in order to encourage congregations to cut their emissions, and the Living the Change Program for individuals and households.
With COVID-19 meaning that congregations have not been meeting face-to-face until recently, the promotion of the Awards has been limited. Despite this, one church used this time to complete its own energy audit. Other actions to date include drafting an overview of the Living the Change program and information sheets on the three main aspects – energy use, transport, and diet.
Mr O’Brien explained the process of the Living the Change sessions as asking people to reflect on how climate change had affected their lives, as well as what changes they had made, then what changes they could next put in place.
The working group has conducted two trials of the online Living the Change supper discussion- with a community group associated with Pitt Street Uniting Church and members of Christian Students Uniting. The task group will soon move its focus to identify target groups and developing a strategy for hosting more Living the Change Supper discussions.
Mr O’Brien said that the group remained open to more people joining.
ADVOCACY TASK GROUP
Convened by Uniting’s Belinda Noble, the Advocacy Task Group has met four times and has around eight members at the time of writing.
One of the group’s main priorities has been promoting the Cities Power partnership program, where local councils work with their communities, business and other groups to promote renewable energy use and other strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
To date, the Advocacy task group has consulted with the Climate Council on the CPP program, developed a media and communications plan for the strategy, and written media releases in support of the Cities Power Partnership program, and the SS4C events on 15 May.
In the next phase, the Advocacy Task group will focus on identifying advocacy opportunities aimed at state and federal governments.
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