Church Council approves Church climate strategy: Carbon neutrality by 2030

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The Church Council approved the Church’s energy and climate strategy, titled Carbon Neutral Church by 2030, in its meeting on Tuesday, 26 February 2019.

“Climate change is a global crisis, but it can still be contained. Through the concrete objectives set in the climate strategy, the Church will help curb climate change and promote a sustainable way of life for the good of our planet”, says Laura Riuttanen, chair of the strategy working group and a climate researcher at the University of Helsinki.

According to the working group’s estimate, most of the Church’s climate emissions are caused by the use of heating and electricity in buildings, but also come from travel and procurement. The objective is to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80%, both in buildings and other operations. The remaining 20% are climate emissions whose mitigation is not possible either technically or financially, but which the Church seeks to compensate for anyway, for example through the carbon stock stored in parish-owned forests.

Environment diploma as a practical tool

The objectives detailed in the Church’s energy and climate strategy apply both to the Church organisation as a whole and to each individual parish.

“We are inviting all parishes to join our climate work because the Church cannot achieve carbon neutrality without the work done in local parishes. The Church Council will help its parishes by laying down best practices and offering guidance and support”, says Ilkka Sipiläinen, the working group’s secretary and a leading expert at the Church Council.

The working group has also created a practical tool to help parishes meet these strategic objectives: the Church’s environment diploma, an environmental management system tailored to meet parish needs. The related handbook is currently being updated. In addition, the Church’s building management system, Basis, stores and collates data about Church building energy consumption, thus helping to track changes in energy use and establish a roadmap to carbon neutrality.

In operations, practical solutions are being applied in order to cut emissions, also by emphasising environmental friendliness in matters concerning meals, procurement and travel. For example, the Church is working to minimise flying by its officials, facilitate remote participation in meetings, and acquire electric car charging stations at all roadside churches by 2021. Climate objectives will also be considered in decisions regarding the Church’s investments: the Church will not make direct investments in companies that produce fossil fuels.

The Church as a bearer of hope

One of the strategy’s objectives states that the Church is an active participant in society that has an influence on climate matters and discusses them.

“The Church wants to encourage and challenge its members, decision-makers in general, and other participants in society to get involved in climate work and work towards carbon neutrality. Through its own concrete actions to mitigate climate change, the Church is also acting as a bearer of hope. Amidst all the climate anxiety and pessimism we see today, the Church wants to spark hope and belief that we can curb climate change – as long as we start taking action immediately”, says Sipiläinen.

In addition to representatives from the Church Council, parishes and dioceses, the energy and climate change strategy group included representatives from the Finnish Environment Institute, the Finnish Energy Authority, the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, Finn Church Aid and the Regional Council of North Karelia. Copies of the draft strategy were freely available for comment while work on it was ongoing, and expert comments were requested.

The finalised strategy is available in Finnish at evl.fi/hiilineutraalikirkko.

The Church's Eco Fast campaign will be launched on Ash Wednesday, 6 March.

Further information: Ilkka Sipiläinen, leading expert at the Church Council, on tel. +358 40 544 1158 or Laura Riuttanen, working group chair and climate researcher, on tel. +358 50 415 4746.