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The biggest game of our lives: Sport and COP26

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The biggest game of our lives: Sport and COP26

Sport played its part at COP26, as organisations and athletes advocated for sport to play a greater role in tackling climate change.

World leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 12 November for COP26, the 26th annual Conference of Parties (COP).  Governments, intergovernmental agencies, the private sector and civil society organisations, including young leaders and activists, came together to set priorities for tackling the climate emergency.

While a compromise agreement was reached to ‘phase down’ fossil fuels and mitigate the impacts of climate change, many observers were disappointed. They felt that world leaders had once again let their constituencies down as more urgent and radical action is required.

Sport and climate change

Sport is also affected by climate change, particularly because of the impact of extreme weather on sporting events. For example, the brutal heat at Tokyo led to the reorganisation of the marathon at the 2020 Olympics, and many competitors claimed the conditions were some of the worst they participated in.

Sporting organisations also played their part in COP26. Here are some sport-related events and highlights that happened in and around the event (please note this is not an exhaustive list and we welcome actors to submit articles and news related to this topic - email Tariqa Tandon at tandon@sa4d.org):

  1. Signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Sports for Climate Action Framework, including the IOC and FIFA, pledged to achieve ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Members also vowed to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Other signatories include the Premier League and the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics and Paralympics organising committee.
  2. Celebrated athletes including Olympic Gold medallist Hannah Mills, former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg, former football player Ledley King and former professional rugby player David Pocock were among those that gathered at COP26 to raise their voice and bring attention to the role that sport must play in climate action. Many other athletes that were not able to join the conference physically took part in a video that called on global leaders to take action at COP26.
  3. EcoAthletes, a non-profit organisation that aims to inspire coaches and athletes to lead climate action, launched a COP26 Sports Community Manifesto. This highlighted how sport is being impacted due to climate change and raised a call to action to achieve the goals laid out in COP26. Nearly 300 athletes, sports organisations and sports leaders have signed the manifesto already.
  4. Scotland’s “greenest’ football club, Hibernian, attended a fringe event organised by Football for Future, a fan-led organisation working to build a more sustainable football culture. Their financial director, Chris Gaunt, stated that green gains are as important to the football club as other achievements and hoped that their club could serve as an inspiration for other sport clubs.
  5. Laureus launched a Sport for Good Index, an annual list of brands that are paving the way to deliver positive social or ecological impact through sport, to coincide with COP26 and signal their commitment to climate action.
  6. A Sport at COP Day of Action was held on 8 November, aimed at getting sport organisations together to discuss their initiatives and solutions for combating climate change. The sessions included an athlete assembly, a sport sustainability showcase, a global sport sustainability hackathon and sport for SDGs challenge.
  7. A friendly football tournament, the World COP26, was held. Teams battled it out to win an upcycled trophy. Held at the Toryglen Football Centre, the event was organised by Spirit of Football, a non-profit organisation aiming to highlight football and related initiatives, in partnership with Cooldown, a sport for climate action network.
  8. Numerous sport and climate change focussed events were held at COP26. This included a panel exploring action and ambition to make sport more sustainable; a day of youth-focused panels on sport and climate action, powered by EXTREME; a panel of high-level speakers and signatories of the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework discussing sport’s role in climate action; a panel on the role of sport broadcasting in helping combat climate change; a panel on the green future of sport and protecting our planet and playing fields; and an event hosted by Formula E, the world’s only all-electric motorsport championship, on the future of e-motorsport.

For a list of sport-related events that occurred at COP26, click here.

It is encouraging that sport actors are engaging in the conversation around climate change and taking action to be part of the solution to this pressing crisis. However, the dialogue and actions started at COP26 are only the beginning. It remains to be seen how these conversations are put into action by various sport organisations, federations, athletes and individuals.

Considering that global sport contributes to the same level of emissions as a medium-sized country, the sporting world needs to start taking some strong steps and decisive action to ensure sport plays a greater role in tackling the climate crisis and that future generations can still realise their right to play sport.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021 - 16:33

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