Bishop of Bristol speaks of climate commitments, Government praises “strong leadership” of church

On 12th March 2020 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Parminter, “To move that this House takes note of the case for investing in, and embracing, a green economy that promotes resource efficiency and zero carbon usage.” The Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Viv Faull, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Bristol:  My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing this debate before the House. As has been said already, and will no doubt be said again, our climate is at a crisis point. As your Lordships are well aware, we continue to see significant losses of biodiversity, increases in global temperatures, rising sea levels and extreme weather events. In the knowledge that these circumstances will disproportionately affect the poorest, and as a nation that has historically consumed large amounts of carbon, it is our moral imperative to act now.

I find myself in the privileged position of representing both a Church and a city to which this issue matters a great deal. Only two weeks ago, Bristol welcomed Greta Thunberg to its College Green, where she addressed more than 15,000 young people. She said that

“nothing is being done to halt this crisis despite all the beautiful words and promises from our elected officials.”

It is my hope that our work here today and in the future will amount to much more than just beautiful words.

As a person of Christian faith, it is my belief that humankind has been divinely mandated to care for the physical world, its creatures and one another, especially the weakest and the least. This mandate requires us to do all we can to minimise whatever is damaging to God’s creation. This is the theology that currently informs the decisions and actions of the Church of England. In February, the General Synod made a landmark decision: it voted to commit the Church to achieving net zero by 2030—a target that, while extremely challenging, we are confident that we must try to achieve.

Within the diocese of Bristol, we are already seeing an increasing number of churches embracing and investing in net-zero initiatives. They come in many ​forms, including the installation of solar panels on the roofs of five of our 200 churches—many more will follow—the utilisation of church lands to grow vegetables and create wild gardens, and the construction of two churchyard composting toilets. These are small steps, but they show a strong desire to care for God’s creation—a desire that is crucial if we are to raise the sights of others towards a net-zero economy. Even if the change starts small, as Greta Thunberg said:

“We must start today start today. We have no more excuses.”

In addition to work at the level of parish life, the Church of England has committed corporately and nationally to being at the forefront of responsible investment practice, given that one of the key drivers in supporting the move towards a global green economy will be how the investment community responds. Institutionally, the Church’s three national investing bodies manage a fund totalling £14 billion, comprising the funds of our historic endowment through the Church Commissioners, the Church of England Pensions Board and the funds of dioceses and churches through the CBF Church of England Funds. Your Lordships will know that these funds alone will shift the global economy but a little. I am acutely aware that it is how many trillions of pounds are leveraged to support the transition to a low-carbon economy that truly matters.

While in many ways the Church has not always been ahead of its time in terms of green investment, I am pleased to say that it is now considered world-leading. Through its investing bodies, the Church has developed a set of interventions and strategies. The first intervention was to create a tool for the wider market to understand this transition. The Church, together with the Environment Agency Pension Fund and the LSE, created the Transition Pathway Initiative. Today, this initiative is supported by 68 funds with more than £18 trillion in assets under management. It is a world-leading tool based at the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute. The TPI tool is free, online and accessible to the public; it is an example of significant market intervention intended to support the understanding of both the investor and the wider market.

The national investing bodies made a further intervention when they announced a commitment to net zero by 2050. The Church of England Pensions Board has become a core part of a trans-European effort to provide a way for pension funds to deliver on their net-zero commitments. The Paris Aligned Investment Initiative, part of the European Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, has the potential to be a significant intervention with real-world impact on how pension funds align their investments in the wider economy. Next week, the TPI will release a state of transition report, showing progress across 380 of the world’s largest companies. My understanding is that, while some companies are beginning to transition successfully to investment in green assets, there is a considerable gap and more needs to be done.

I want to highlight one last intervention, which was announced on 30 January when the Church of England Pensions Board opened the London Stock Exchange. The Church has invested £600 million in a new stock index that embeds the insights of the Transition Pathway Initiative in allocating investments. The FTSE-TPI ​Climate Transition Index has been worked on for 18 months by the Pensions Board with FTSE, the London School of Economics and TPI. It is the first index to embed forward-looking information about whether a company is setting and delivering real targets aligned to the Paris Agreement.

The comments made yesterday on the green economy by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the other place are most welcome, but I want to hear also from the Minister. First, what further support are the Government giving to businesses to help them to transition to a green economy? Secondly, what encouragement are they giving to institutional investors to align their funds with the Paris Agreement?

One of the things we as a Church are discovering is that, as we commit to this work, our life has been enriched in unexpected ways. The diocese of Bristol, in particular, has witnessed a flourishing of relationships within and between communities committed to the green agenda. Caring for our earth teaches us about not only valuing the natural world but what it means to value and care for each other. As one parishioner stated, “As we gain momentum in our journey towards net zero, our connectedness only grows.” Embracing a green economy that promotes resource efficiency and zero-carbon usage is in one part obvious and, in another part, unexpectedly rich in its return on financial and human investment.


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)..There is no doubt that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges that we face and that action is urgently needed in the UK and across the world. It is worth repeating that the UK was the first major economy to legislate for a net-zero target, which will end our contribution to climate change. I am pleased to welcome the support for the net-zero target from the Church, as outlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol.

…The subject of green finance was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, my noble friends Lord Gadhia and Lord Marland—the best of luck to him with his clean investment fund. We welcome the strong leadership that is provided in this field by the Church and the role of many institutional investors, which will be key as we build up to COP 26. ​In fact, only today, an industry-led group called the Pensions Climate Risk Industry Group, convened by the Department for Work and Pensions, produced regulations and published guidance on how pension scheme trustees can disclose their approach to climate risk in their portfolios. Delivering on that is a key promise in the green finance strategy.

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