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Church and climate change

Since 2001, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland (ELCF) has had its own diploma for its environmental programme, Environment Diploma (in Finnish: Kirkon ympäristödiplomi), which has been updated regularly. It is tailored for the needs of the parishes, helping them in acknowledging the environmental impact of their activities, minimising the risks, preparing for the future challenges, and offering tools for a continual development of their activities. Furthermore, in 2008 the ELCF established their climate agenda called Thankfulness, respect, moderation (in Finnish: Kiitollisuus, kunnioitus, kohtuus). It examines theological starting points and makes recommendations for taking part in the joint effort to combat climate change. The ELCF has since gradually taken steps to a more environmentally sustainable strategy. Also, the candidate selection engine of the parish elections from autumn 2018 indicated that the climate and environmental work of the church receive strong support both from the candidates and from the chosen representatives of the parish elections.

In January 2018 the Church Council of the ELCF set up an expert committee to prepare for an energy and climate strategy. The strategy got accepted in February 2019. It follows the national and international work, aiming for climate change mitigation and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees from the pre-industrial time. The goal is to make the church carbon neutral by 2030.

The general goals of the energy and climate strategy are that by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 80% of the current level, and the rest 20% will be compensated to the extent possible. According to the committee of the energy and climate strategy, the majority of the emissions of the ELCF come from heating the church property and from electricity consumption. In order for the church to reach the goal, the emissions of their property are monitored, while also the carbon stock and carbon sink are evaluated. (The church owns approximately 0.7% of the forests in Finland.) In addition to these general goals, the strategy includes more specific goals and a road map to follow. (See, Carbon Neutral Church by 2030.)

The ELCF is comprised of parishes and parish unions, which make their decisions independently. The goals set in the energy and climate strategy concern both the church as a whole and each parish: the carbon neutrality is carried out by local parishes, while the church council helps parishes by offering advice and support. The Ecological Diploma works as a tool used to carry out the goals of the strategy, it has many of those goals specified. In 2019, only slightly more than one in four (29%) parishes had the Ecological Diploma (Survey for the Parishes 2020), but many other climate strategic measures were taken. For instance, almost 70% of parishes had monitored energy consumption of their property; two in three parishes (68%) had taken a specific notice on reducing food waste; half of the churches had mainly given up oil heating. Church also encourages and challenges its members, other societal operators and decision makers to take part in the climate work.

According to the Survey for the parishes (2020), church employees and elected officials tend to be rather supportive towards climate measures including influencing the decision makers and guiding the members of the church towards a sustainable lifestyle. Measures including concrete actions and restrictions in the work of the church or its employees receive somewhat less support. For instance, more than three in four (76%) employees and almost two in three (63%) elected officials considered that the church should guide people to change their lifestyles into ecologically sustainable ones. Then again, only 40% of the employees and slightly more than one in four (27%) elected officials considered that churches should reduce forest felling. Gallup Ecclesiastica 2019 survey found that 36% of Finns agree with the statement that “combating climate change and related influencing do not belong to the duties of the church”. Almost as many (34%) reported disagreeing with this statement. Members of the church and those who do not belong to religious communities had relatively similar views, whereas those belonging to other religious communities than the ELCF were more reserved with their views on churches’ responsibility on combating climate change.

 Climate Agenda of the Church (2008) Kiitollisuus, kunnioitus, kohtuus.
 Energy and Climate Strategy (2019) Carbon Neutral Church by 2030.

D 29 June 2021    AAnita Sipilä

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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