Event Meeting Report

January Meeting — Brian Cuthbertson

13th January 2020,  St Mary’s Church, Hendon Lane N3 1TR



Present: 28
Apologies: 5

• Jeffrey Newman welcomed everyone and introduced Brian Cuthbertson, Head of Environment and Sustainability at the Diocese of London

• Syed Ahmed, Energy for London, talked about decarbonising existing buildings.
There are 3.5 million buildings in London so decarbonisation is a challenge. They provide 1/3 of London’s carbon footprint. ¾ of that energy is used for hot water and heating and 90% of this is provided by gas. The key is energy efficiency. Currently it is poor – ¼ of London homes are in the lowest  EPC band.

There are 4 unique challenges for decarbonising London.
1. High proportion of solid wall homes
2. High proportion of flats
3. High proportion of private rented homes
4. High proportion of houses in conservation areas.

Non-domestic properties produce 40% of carbon emissions in capital – there is no government strategy for SMEs.
40% of non-domestic properties in lowest EPC category
£3.7 bn on energy bills in London of which £3.1bn is London businesses. 30-40% is simply wasted.

Highest rate of home retrofit was 2012. Money is available but funding cut by 90%. Need to quadruple the uptake of retrofit to get to net zero.

• Brian Cuthbertson, Head of Environment and Sustainability at the Diocese of London.
Church of England as an organisation is far behind where it ought to be. We must not be downhearted! Prophetic voice is coming rather from Greta Thunberg and XR.
Carbon targets vary: XR is 2025, many LAs 2030, government 2050. CofE is proposing 2045 which is arguably not bold enough.
Efforts relating to carbon reduction and climate change need to be embedded within wider environmental objectives, the three main ones are:
1. Climate Change
2. Biodiversity
3. Waste production especially plastic.
These are all connected. Mitigating one can be negative on another so we need to be very canny and wary of bandwagons an example being Gordon Brown and the enthusiastic encouragement of diesel cars or encouraging biofuels that lead to deforestation.
Different people engage with different issues. Plastic is popular because easy to visualise.
We need to plan transition but there is no end point eg abolishing fossil fuels is not like abolishing slavery. The end point is not as clear as it seems and we need to respond  to new circumstances as they arise.
What would we do if we fail?
In the technical challenge there are gaps in what we can do. We could do everything we set ourselves and find that climate change is beyond control, but we have to keep going – faith, loyalty and justice. We must not be diverted but we must be realists.

It is vital to work as a team and draw in stakeholders, councils, schools, aid agencies work with and through people. The Church needs to set an example as an organisation and then spread ripples into members’ lives. We face hard choices on food and flying for example. These are common issues. The Church must not preach but present people with choices they can intelligently address and decide what is right (not what is simply comfortable or expedient). This means being realistic in ambitions eg dates for decarbonisation 2025/30 if the policy direction is not shared by country. Government and business dictate the pace of decarbonisation eg  electricity grid.

There is a necessary reliance on offsetting in order to meet national target. Green tariffs will change but predicting the future is very difficult. Intelligent/realistic guesstimate required for policy/practical decision now eg for churches whether to replace a boiler with a more efficient gas boiler now. Government still subsidises fossil fuel.

Gas is vital in London and UK. There are two ways to decarbonise: use hydrogen which is effectively carbon neutral or increase biofuel/biomethane. Moving from gas to electricity needs to balance removal of gas boiler with increase in electricity burden, as with electric cars – adds to electricity demands. Best source of renewables is offshore windfarms.
Most people in the UK think that most people in the UK do not like wind farms! It is not true!  There is a lot of ground to be made up.

There is a problem with decision making. Solar panels in churches is very difficult in terms of planning permission. It is OK if they are completely invisible. Planning is likely to beat down plans to up to half of what was wanted. On an unlisted building planning is not required in certain circumstances but if the site faces a road it may be needed. Have to deal with LA planning officers effectively working against Council climate emergency. National planning policy and lawful application affected by judicial process that looks to the past.
Heat pumps have potential.
It is important to engage hearts and minds of congregations/communities and all pull in the same direction. Communication is key – an understandable message, expressed in simple terms to enable people to respond. We need to do very big things but it is hard until we get consensus. Positive egs smoking ban or drink driving. But much more and much wider action in our lives is necessary.

• Group Discussion
Q – does CofE use green energy supplier? Yes, Parishbuying energy basket (with Total!)

Q biofuel production – could we use European farming surpluses/lakes? Biogas comes from biodigestion. Barnet has gone backwards on food collection and anaerobic digestion. Barnet can get back by 2022. Disposal is actually cheaper in biodigestion!
More damaging though is unrecyclable material in recycling. If in doubt put it in general waste!

Q Meeting with Theresa Villiers connecting with specialists.

Q what countries are doing best and what can we learn? Costa Rica good. Scandinavia not as good as it seems. UK claims it is a leader but is in fact a laggard though ahead of comparable countries.. All countries face different challenges and resources eg China carbon emission is massive and per person higher than UK but govt gets climate change – limits to enacting policy even in a totalitarian state. Countries need to understand one another. US, president a climate change denier but states and cities and some corporates are leaders.

Q biodiversity. Wildlife in UK under severe threat – depletion of species and habitats animals particularly threatened. This is problem in its own right. Intensive farming and pesticides aggravated by climate change. It is possible some plant life will benefit but animals will struggle. Churchyard diversity is important. Needs to be managed. Churchyards are evenly distributed across the country and become refuges and stepping stones for species distribution. There is general drift northwards. We can encourage habitat and maintenance for most under-threat species eg bees and encourage other kinds of pollinators. See Waltham Forest pollinator strategy.

Q – winning hearts and minds is it individualism vs collectivism? Is compulsion necessary? Power of LA in planning. Councils make arbitrary decisions. Decarbonising food production very difficult. It is heavily dependent on fossil fuel. Building in concrete. Necessity of consent.

Q coastline and threat to sea life especially birds

Q – Church of England and poor parish maintenance of buildings, houses and churches. There is a big gap between best and worst.

Q – waste and incentives. Good example from cashback at supermarkets in US.

Q – church owned land and PV/wind turbines. Diocese of Truro are doing a lot using glebe land for environmental projects.

Q – consultation on building regulation “Future Homes” website gives help if we wish to respond.
Try watching Apocalypse Cow (George Monbiot) on Channel 4.

• Details of Next Meeting – Wednesday 12 Feb 6.30pm-8pm [see february-2020-meeting-12th-feb-630pm]