England's Historic Cathedrals Face Exceptional Climate Change Challenge

England’s historic churches and cathedrals face the same tough choices forced on us all by climate change, Climate Change and Environment Minister Ian Pearson said today.

Speaking at the Cathedrals and Climate Change Conference at Lambeth Palace, organised by the Association of English Cathedrals, Mr Pearson welcomed the commitment of churches and cathedrals to join the national effort to cut carbon emissions and start adapting to the inevitable impacts climate change will have on our historic environment.

Mr Pearson said:

“Cathedrals are important spiritual, historic and cultural buildings. Many of our churches and cathedrals have stood for hundreds of years. They play a vital role as a focus for worship, as the hub of faith communities, as a cultural symbol for the region and as international icons that make an important contribution to the tourism economy.

“Be that as it may, they are not immune to the effects of climate change. We need to take care of our cathedrals now, as they need to be prepared for the more extreme weather of the future and must start adapting if they are still to be standing a century from now.

“Medieval cathedrals stand today as monuments to the skill, ingenuity and ambition of the engineers and architects of their time: a testament to the potential of mankind to solve problems creatively and with dedication. We need to apply this creativity to finding climate solutions.

“While a wind-turbine on St Paul’s might raise a few eyebrows, I’d love to see solar panels on church halls, biomass boilers in church schools, and maybe in future we should be thinking about how, by using microgeneneration, cathedrals can help produce energy as well as use it”.

Mr Pearson said that climate change would affect everyone on an individual level, and could not be a problem for governments or businesses alone.

“The Church of England and other faith groups can play a vital part in promoting action against climate change here in the UK and internationally,” he said.

“Many churches and cathedrals are already doing innovative, practical work to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. They can mobilise communities and are spreading the message that doing something about climate change needn’t involve a grand gesture – every small step is important.”

There are many examples of the Church already taking the initiative, such as:

  • A new booklet, entitled ‘How many light bulbs does it take to change a Christian?’, which is part of the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint Campaign, is a practical guide with green tips for individuals, communities and their churches.
  • Portsmouth Cathedral, who last summer let their youth group do an environmental audit of the cathedral. One of their canons is now an environmental watchdog. At one of their services, they also gave away low energy light bulbs and loo flush reducers to the congregation.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral’s Costing the Earth series stimulated debate from the worlds of economics, science, religion and business to address the issues of climate change and how individuals can play a part in working for a sustainable future for our planet.

The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres said:

“The aims of the conference directly support the wider Church of England “Shrinking the Footprint” campaign endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and launched on World Environment Day last year. The Archbishop of Canterbury has several times pointed out that we have no right to appeal to our contemporaries on this issue if we have failed to put our own house in order. There is spiritual work and there is scrutiny of our own life together in our use of the gifts of creation. We can all as individuals play our part and the Church is well placed in the local community to build change in this area.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group two report in April this year - the work of thousands of independent scientists across the world – concluded that rising temperatures caused by human induced climate change over the last 30 years have already had an impact on people and the environment.

In the UK, buildings will have to be better able to cope with the higher temperatures and more extreme weather that climate change will bring.

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