Towards Zero – Assembly Climate Action Plan
Written by Rev Dr Ji Zhang, Assembly Theologian-in-Residence
When I first arrived in Australia over thirty years ago, my first impression was of the bright sunshine and the deep blue sky. In this land I have experienced a transformation of life, I became Christian, studied theology, and was ordained as a minister in the Uniting Church. My story of transformation includes 12 years working in the renewable energy industry. As I reflect upon this journey, I have come to a conclusion: Unless Planet Earth is saved, my personal salvation is meaningless.
The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly has set a target of achieving net-zero emissions by 2040. One of the key pillars of our 2020-2023 Strategic Plan is Innovation. Our commitment to work “Towards Zero” will require us to be innovative, to think differently, to change the way we work and to reimagine our life and mission.
I have begun work with the Assembly Resourcing Unit to develop key resources as part of the 15th Assembly’s commitment to act on and address climate change.
In the coming months, a resource pack will be shared with the wider church, featuring theological principles, dialogue with climate science and real stories. We will also present an emissions calculator tool that allows all parts of the Church to measure their carbon emissions and live out their commitment to action on climate.
Here are four themes the resource will explore:
Personal Salvation and Salvation of Creation
We can all make changes towards zero emissions. When my family had the chance to rebuild our house, my wife, also working in the renewable energy sector and I, made the decision to design our home with the smallest impact on our environment. We upgraded insulation, installed efficient cooling and heating units, and doubled the size of our solar hot water. Just before the lockdown last year, we installed solar panels to produce three times our electricity usage in order to offset other emissions.
While I was working on this project, I also noticed others within the Uniting Church were also taking significant steps to address their climate impacts. One example is Tenille Fricker, Senior Analyst at UnitingCare Australia, who reversed her emissions within a year. After the bushfires in Canberra last year, she installed solar panels and a battery for her household and replaced her old car with an electric vehicle.
The first emission calculator is designed for households. It measures the usage of electricity, gas, BBQ LPG, transportation, water and waste in order to calculator emissions. After putting in my household data, I can see a major reduction: from 8.9 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2019 to -0.13 tonnes in 2020.
God in Creation
We believe God is in Creation. Our Preamble affirms that God is in this Land. Walking on Country experiences have opened our eyes to see that our lives are inwardly connected to the Land through the Spirit. In my heart language, this connection is called “身土不二, “Our body and the Land are not two, but one”.
We can make a change towards zero. The Uniting Church has many stories of achieving zero emissions and significant savings. St Andrew’s Gardiner Uniting Church and Glen Waverley Uniting Church in my city of Melbourne for example, have already achieved zero emissions. Many UCA communities listed in the Five Leaf Eco Awards have made lifestyle changes for environmental sustainability. We encourage Uniting Church members to share with us your stories of passion, struggle, and hope for our mother Earth.
The second calculator is designed for congregations. It works on the same formula as the household one, but with additional entries that cater for a manse and other church buildings. Based on the 2019 data, it is encouraging to see that St Andrew’s Gardiner, my previous congregation, has achieved -4.09 tonnes of CO2 offset. The calculator also shows the percentage of reduction in each emission.
The Cosmic Christ in Climate Action
We are not alone; the cosmic Christ is with us in climate change. Christ is journeying with the people most impacted by climate change, like our partners in the Pacific and Asia. There is a universal Cross reaching from horizon to horizon, and Christ’s passion narrative is written in the hearts of those who have advocated for climate action for so long. There is a pastoral journey ahead for our Church as we speak the prophetic language of climate justice.
Yet we are the Body of Christ. The Church can make a change as we work together to keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5 degrees C. The Assembly will take three crucial steps:
- measure our usage and reduce waste
- switch to 100% renewables and install solar panels
- fly carbon neutral and offset all flights.
The third calculator will measure the emission savings of Assembly staff and agencies. It first collects data from individual staff: flights, accommodation, transport and home office. This data will be included in the annual report of each Assembly office and agency. From this year onwards, an emission report will be presented to the Assembly Standing Committee, in the same way we report financially. The tool will track and demonstrate changes in a three-year cycle.
New Heaven and New Earth
The Uniting Church identity is shaped by the vision of reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation. Climate action is about hope rooted in the biblical witness: “I see a New Heaven and a New Earth”. Our future is not about the destruction of the planet earth, but rather “the home of God is among mortals” (Rev 21: 1, 3).
The irreversible transition towards a carbon neutral future has already begun. In Western Australia, a hydrogen project will use wind and solar energy to product liquefied hydrogen. The Northern Territory will start to build the world’s largest solar farm in 2023, and supply one-fifth of Singapore’s electricity by 2026.
Some of our large social service agencies have already moved to a carbon neutral future. Uniting Communities in South Australia received their Carbon Neutral Certificate in 2016. UnitingCare Queensland has just launched the 2025 net-zero emissions target – to remove nearly 100,000 tonnes of CO2 from their emissions. All of these actions involve the decentralisation of energy production. Together we can close the 79% gap of renewable energy that exists now in Australia’s electricity production.
Offset/Emission = Usage - Reduction – Production
This is the formular of change – Towards Zero. And this project is about us walking the talk. When we call our Government and others to action on Climate Change, we want to show our own commitment to care for God’s creation We want to reduce the entry point – everyone is able to make a contribution. Our hope is to demonstrate our emission reduction in our operations nationally in a 3-year cycle. We hope that others across the Church will join us in this journey too, as we strive together to live in harmony with God in creation.