Why Net Zero is crucial for the Church

This month we are focusing on our pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030.

The General Synod of the Church of England voted in February 2020 for the whole of the Church of England to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. The vote recognised that the global climate emergency is a crisis for God’s creation and a fundamental injustice.

We talk to Godfrey Armitage, Diocesan Environment Officer, and the Revd Tim Cockell, Acting Archdeacon Pastor, about why our commitment to net zero carbon is so important.

Godfrey, when you speak about Net Zero, how do you address the question of ‘why’ rather than ‘how’ we should protect and steward our inheritance? 

Psalm 24 tells us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. It is God’s world; he cares for it and for people. Each Christmas we hear: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’" Father and son theologians Douglas and Jonathan Moo say in their 2019 book, Creation Care: "The most shocking claim of scripture is that it is this same Jesus, the creator and sustainer of all that exists, who takes on flesh, becoming part of his own creation." If God has demonstrated his love for his creation by becoming part of it through his son Jesus, then we must care for it too. 

February 2024 was the ninth month in a row that was the warmest on record for the respective month. These raised temperatures create more droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, floods, and sea levels rise. For many, this is becoming an existential threat. Scientists have known about the link between increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and increasing atmospheric temperatures for over 150 years, yet we still emit carbon dioxide in vast amounts from fossil fuel burning, industry, heating, and agriculture. The 2015 Paris Agreement pledged to keep global average temperatures below a 1.5˚C increase since pre-industrial levels, aiming to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. However, last year, daily global average temperatures rose above 1.5˚C many times, and even exceeded 2.0˚C for two days.  

The way our civilisation has treated our Earth has been to devour its resources, food, minerals, water and land with little thought for its future - maximising profits, but never seeming to have enough. But when I point at other people’s excess use of resources and spoiling of nature, I find three fingers pointing back at me. How can God’s grace enable me to care for his world? And how can his church respond? What I and others manage to do to reduce our carbon footprints may seem like a drop in the ocean but it is a sign to the world that God cares. I am called to ‘live more simply that others may simply live.’ Theologian Richard Bauckham has said: “God makes of what we do much more than what we make of it ourselves.” I call this Christian value-added!

Thanks Godfrey. Net Zero is often viewed as a response to the fifth mark of mission “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” What links do you see between Net Zero and the other marks of mission?

In February 2020, the Church of England General Synod made a radical move to work towards Net Zero Carbon by 2030 and this is one of the targets of the Diocese of Coventry. Working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and to increase processes that remove it from the atmosphere obviously reduce global warming and reduce biodiversity loss. What about the other four Marks of Mission? 

The first Mark, "To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom," reflects the risen Jesus’ commission to the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Christ’s work of reconciliation is not just for people, but for the whole created world. The second Mark of Mission, "To teach, baptise and nurture new believers," reminds us that our creation care needs to be immersed in the whole gospel message of Christ, creator, sustainer, and reconciler redeemer of all things, and we must help new believers to grasp both hope today and hope for a time when Christ will make all things new. The third Mark, "to respond to human need by loving service," reminds us that our service should bless those who are fearful of the future and those affected by climate change and biodiversity loss. And the fourth Mark of Mission, "to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation," reflects the fact that these ecological problems are justice issues; the global poor are disproportionally affected and countries which have contributed least to exploitation of the world’s resources bear a disproportionate cost. As climate change becomes worse, many will be displaced from their homes and countries. We, the church, have a prophetic role, drawing attention to the issues and modelling solutions as we work towards net zero carbon. 


Tim, in your role as Acting Archdeacon Pastor, you lead the diocesan approach to Net Zero and inspire many people to make a difference wherever and whenever they can.  A useful position is endorsing good practice as you see it across the diocese and encouraging people to adopt those things that are clearly appropriate to their setting.  This advocacy for reducing carbon emissions is critically important, but in leading, you must often be asked from our faith perspective, why we should do this in the local church.  What is your response to this?

"God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." Gen. 1. 31.

From the very first chapter of the Bible we see a God who loves so much that he creates the world and all that is in it. God sees that what he has done is good and as we read on, we learn that we, human beings, are given stewardship of the earth and all that fills it.   

Sadly, our actions have been less about stewardship and more about mastery. This has meant that over recent centuries we have lost the idea of working with nature, with our world, in favour of extracting as much from it as we can from it to satisfy our need to consume yet more. But clearly our faith calls us to work with creation and not against it.   

With increased awareness of environmental issues and the problem of global warming and changing climate it has become easier to encourage people to think about green issues. There is still a long way to go but I use my role as Acting Archdeacon, especially with the DAC to encourage others to think green and think about the future. From a personal perspective I am someone who encourages others to adopt zero carbon alternatives for transport and heating. From a theological perspective it seems clear that God has placed a calling on us to be good stewards of all that he has given us.  

Tim, in your view is Net Zero a distraction from mission and evangelism?

The short answer is 'No.'  But I don’t do short answers!  There are some who would say that focussing on net zero takes away time and energy from the core purpose of the church which is to make new disciples for Christ. I don’t see focussing on net zero as being a distraction from this at all. In fact, I believe there is great missional potential for the church in going green. How we use our churchyards as places of increased biodiversity can bring people on to church sites; installing solar panels on our buildings shows we car for the world and our future. The church has an opportunity to be in forefront of adopting net zero technology and I see that in itself as having great missional potential. 

First published on: 2nd April 2024
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