Bishop of Bristol's speech in House of Lords May 2021

First published 18th May 2021

On Monday 17 May in the House of Lords, the Lord Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, made a speech in response to the Queen's speech, linked to the environmental crisis.

"My Lords, along with others in this House, I welcome the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I remember making my own maiden speech in the debate on the Humble Address in 2019, though of course in rather different circumstances. When I gave that speech, we were looking ahead to 2020 as the year of climate action. Instead, the impact of Covid-19 has understandably been the focus of global activity. However, the situation for our planet is becoming more urgent, not less. With another year of action now lost because of Covid-19, we need meaningful global, national and local agreements on the climate and biodiversity issues more than ever before.

Your Lordships will be well aware of the reasons: mass deforestation, ocean acidification, wildfires, unsustainable farming practices, excessive use of harmful fertilisers and pesticides, and unabating plastic pollution, to name just some. Other noble Lords have named others. Our planet and its ecosystems are delicate. Each organism has a valuable role and purpose. As Covid-19 has so painfully revealed, we cannot continue to violate this symbiotic community with impunity. 

Our political life is similarly symbiotic. Let me explain. While it is true that we cannot simply legislate our way out of this crisis, we must do more to attempt to keep the global average temperature below 1.5 degrees centigrade and bend the curve on biodiversity loss. I will not speak in depth now about the forthcoming Environment Bill, given that there will be the opportunity to do so in the coming weeks, but I will record my desire to see an increase in its ambition. I and other right reverend Prelates look forward to working with colleagues across this House to ensure that the legislation addresses ecological degradation and biodiversity loss as an integral part of addressing the climate emergency. Furthermore, I welcome the spirit of the climate and ecology emergency bill and the urgency with which members in the other place are trying to draw attention to these issues. Both bills are long overdue and much needed.

However, to go to back to political symbiosis, what is really needed is a fundamental change of perspective. Rather than an environmental policy, we need every policy to be environmental. We need to join up our thinking and ensure that every department and every sector of society is making efforts to combat rising global temperatures. A proper agreement to protect our planet will affect every single sector of every single society – our private and public sectors, our businesses, our farms, our waters, our schools, our cities and our homes. It will affect every individual and until we understand our collective responsibility, we will not have the impact that is needed.

I want to speak briefly about the work that the Church of England is doing. While it is an intrinsic human instinct to care for our environment, people of faith in particular are mandated to care for the planet because creation is a gift of God. We acknowledge that we have not always acted on this belief – to our shame, rather the reverse – but now the Church of England has committed to achieving net zero by 2030, a decision made by synod last year as a bold statement of intent.

As an example of our action, to achieve net zero we need to decarbonise all our heating. This is as true for our churches and cathedrals, our clergy houses and church halls, as it is for the rest of society. My diocese was the first to declare a climate emergency and commit to net-zero carbon by 2030. As part of that work, we have calculated our baseline carbon footprint and found that the largest portion of emissions – 38% – is from our school estates. We have started working closely with head teachers and estates managers to explore options for decarbonisation.

We have also hugely benefited from the green interventions of Bristol City Council. One of our flagship schools and largest emitters, St Mary Redcliffe, has already benefited from the installation of solar panels and full LED lighting. It will soon gain from linking into the Bristol heat network, after which the school will be carbon neutral. This partnership with a local authority shows the real, positive impact that local government can have on meeting both its and our net carbon targets so, following the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, I record my thanks to Bristol City Council for its work on this.

To develop that work nationally, I eagerly await the government’s heating strategy to understand what help will be given to transition from fossil fuel-based systems. In addition, laid on the local and national plans but supporting them, we need an ambitious global plan to be agreed at both the CBD COP 15 and COP 26 – one that puts nature and the planet firmly back on the road to recovery by 2030. While nations rightly rally to eradicate the Covid-19 virus, we have another and even greater crisis on our hands: the loss of biodiversity. However, unlike Covid-19, this pandemic is not limited to one or two species. It requires urgent action from us all." – Lord Bishop of Bristol, Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, Tuesday 17 May 2021

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