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The Role of the Faculty System in Achieving Net-Zero Carbon Emissions by 2030

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2021

Jacqueline Humphreys*
Barrister Chancellor of the Diocese of Worcester


The Church of England has committed itself to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. An important element required for success in this aim will be to amend the legislation around the management of church buildings and in particular the operation of the faculty jurisdiction. While aspects of the present system can and do facilitate some necessary change, to achieve the swift and widespread changes required within the timescale envisaged a more radical overhaul is required because the present faculty system favours the status quo, however bad that is from a carbon emissions perspective.

Copyright © Ecclesiastical Law Society 2021

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The author wishes to record her thanks to the kind and knowledgeable people who gave up their time to discuss the issues in this article with her or who otherwise freely shared their ideas. These are Emma Bakewell, Matt Fulford, Clare Fussell, David Knight, David McCoulough, Mark Ockelton, Simon Pugh-Jones, Catherine Ross and Simon Taylor. Responsibility for the opinions expressed, and for any errors, remains with the author.


2 Definition taken from s 5 of the Church of England's consultation paper ‘A national definition of “net zero carbon” for the Church of England, and our approach to measuring it’, <>, accessed 20 October 2020.

3 The direct emissions of work-related travel on Church business will be included, but this is not subject to faculty jurisdiction. Matters that are not proposed to be in scope at present but may be brought into scope at some point before 2030 are wider and also not subject to faculty jurisdiction, such as emissions from farming and management of Church lands, upstream emissions from items purchased and downstream emissions from waste disposal, and emissions from email use and data storage and from Church investments other than those controlled by the Church Commissioners, who have their own ethical and environmental investment policies.

4 Information from Catherine Ross, Open and Sustainable Churches Officer, Church Buildings Council. This is up already from the 3,000 reported in the Church Times, 3 September 2020.

5 ‘UK Parliament declare climate emergency’, BBC News, 1 May 2019, <>, accessed 20 October 2020.

6 Notably St Michael, Baddesley Clinton in the Diocese of Birmingham and St Michael and All Angels, Withington in the Diocese of Gloucester.

8 Re St Paul, Addlestone [2020] ECC Gui 1.

9 The case Re St Alkmund, Duffield [2013] Fam 158, a decision by the Court of the Arches, sets out the authoritative test that chancellors must apply when considering proposed changes to church buildings.

10 In a suitable case, other ‘environmental’ public benefits such as clean air from electric-vehicle charging posts, biodiversity from tree planting and locally grown food may also be relevant, as well as carbon emissions reduction.

11 Re St Mary, Moseley [2011] Cardinal Ch (Birmingham).

12 For example, Gloucester DAC have published a sustainability policy and their sustainability adviser offers free advice to churches. See <>, accessed 20 October 2020.

13 Usually an architect or buildings surveyor. ‘Quinquennial inspector’ is used as a shorthand hereafter.

14 Specialist advice must be taken if considering insulation of historic buildings to ensure that the proposals do not cause additional problems, particularly with damp.

15 By encouraging the preparation for change to take place before the boiler breaks, and perhaps by having a supply of plug-in electric heaters or heated cushions to lend out in emergencies. Emergency faculties may be obtained very quickly once the replacement is identified.

16 For example, the Royal Institute of British Architects declared a climate emergency in June 2019 and committed to developing an Ethics and Sustainable Development Action Plan, so is likely to be in a position to assist in this regard.

17 The Heat Policy Commission Report from the Confederation of British Industry, Net-Zero: the road to low-carbon heat, July 2020, has made wide-ranging recommendations, including:

  1. i.

    i. A government-mandated, phased switchover from existing natural gas boilers to other solutions like heat pumps and hydrogen technologies, including heat networks;

  2. ii.

    ii. From 2023 no new domestic oil-fired boilers to be installed;

  3. iii.

    iii. After 2025 all new domestic boiler installations to be part of a hybrid system or be ‘hydrogen-ready’;

  4. iv.

    iv. From 2035 all new heating installations to be low-carbon. No new natural-gas-burning boilers or systems should be installed and only net-zero compatible technologies like air-source or ground-source heat pumps, hydrogen-burning boilers or heat networks should be deployed.

See <>, accessed 20 October 2020.

18 A sapling will obviously remove far less carbon from the atmosphere than a mature tree for many years after it is planted, and therefore consideration of the adequacy of the replacement tree(s) must be considered. Chancellors, too, need to be more aware of the carbon emissions reduction significance of the removal of mature trees. Two faculties to remove trees have been recently granted without any apparent assessment of the carbon reduction lost by removing these trees or any condition of others being planted. See Re All Saints, Marcham [2020] ECC Oxf 1 and Re St Mary, Chithurst [2020] ECC Chi 1.

19 In Re St Michael and All Angels, Blackheath Park [2020] ECC Swk 1, a faculty for floodlighting was granted on the basis that that it would be powered by electricity from a renewable source.

20 Adapting existing fabric may enable heritage and environmental concerns to align.