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  • Annabel Sides

The Head Coach has shifted tactics: The United Nations Sports For Climate Action Framework

Sport is setting the pace, raising the bar, edging out the opposition. Sport is a lead actor in the race to a better climate future.

The United Nations Sport For Climate Action Framework (UNS4CAF), launched three years ago, required signatories to commit and adhere to the following five principles,

  • 1: Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility

  • 2: Reduce overall climate impact

  • 3: Educate for climate action

  • 4: Promote sustainable and responsible consumption

  • 5: Advocate for climate action through communication.

There has been some incredible work within these principles from signatories that include International Federations, Olympic Organizing Committees, Professional Leagues, Clubs and Broadcasters. The IOC itself has made incredible leaps in sustainability and is the sports leader of this UN initiative. I would really recommend exploring their strategy, activity and tools online.

Critics have often said that principles alone are not compelling enough, there needs to be ambitious goals set. Critics to the sidelines please, there are now ambitious Sports For Climate Action targets and requirements. They are,

  • One mid-term target to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 at the latest. 2019 baseline is recommended but signatories should choose the latest year for which data is available

  • One long-term target to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2040

  • Targets should be inclusive of scopes 1, 2 and 3 (categories which are material to total emissions and where data availability allows them to be measured sufficiently)

  • Organizations for which scope 3 represent 40% or more of total emissions generated by the organization to model Scope 3 emissions and set Scope 3 targets as well

  • Process of Commit, Plan, Proceed and Report will enter into force effective December 2021.

Signatories to these Sports For Climate Action Targets are embracing the opportunity to officially join Race to Zero.

“Race to Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth. All Race to Zero Partners are committed to the same overarching goal: halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible.”

These targets are science based, they are guided by best practice and they keep the global dream alive of staying within 1.5°C of warming.

You can read more about the new look UNS4CAF here.

So who from Australian Sport is represented, has anyone signed up to the new Race To Zero targets?

Richmond Football Club.

Other Australian signatories still working to the principles are Bowls Australia, Tennis Australia, The Australian Olympic Committee and Sail GP Team Australia (SailGP the governing body has signed up to the Race To Zero targets)

I urge all Australian Sports to become part of the UNS4CAF and embrace the Race to Zero. Being part of this international group provides a community of practice, a support team for your efforts.

Painting a picture of the work that the 5 principles have inspired over the past 3 years have been some standout Sport COP26 events. This is one of my favourites so far.

How Sport Can Set the Pace for Climate Action, COP26 Blue Zone, Action Hub Website:

Moderated by Claire Poole, Founder & CEO, Sport Positive the panelists were Fiona Morgan SAILGP, Bob Ramask World Athletics & James Colgate, Williams Racing.

These sports professionals represent the diversity of leadership and action, their approaches, although similar are also so very different because every sport is so very different from the way it is played, where it is played and who its following and fan base are.

Claire Poole, Founder Sports Positive introduced the session highlighting one of the reasons why sport is so important to table climate change “Sport is universal, it reaches peoples hearts and minds and we are able to meet people through sport where they are”

The session highlights two universal drivers behind the action and the reason why sport is so successful in this space.

One is collaboration, sharing and codesign. Internally, with athletes, with the sport community, with researchers and event hosts, cross sectoral with private and public organisations, leagues and sports. The forming of new and innovative climate positive partnerships where traditionally sport may not have ventured, partnerships that accelerate change.

Secondly is the love of sport, using sport as a platform to encourage ambition and accelerate action among fellow sports people, fans and world leaders. From the SAIL GP Impact league to The World Athletics survey of athletes concerns around climate change resulting in an unscripted call from track and field athletes of the world to act now, We Can Still Fix This. Bold and brave, these athletes are unscripted, they are incredible. Using your voice has been a theme in this session and others.

And here are just some of the examples given by the speakers around actions they are taking:

  • Material Life cycle assessments including end of life recycling technologies that can be transferred into other industries, think carbon fiber cars and boats

  • Opportunities for athletes to benefit from hands on, tangible involvement with purpose driven partnerships. This provides opportunities for skill development and deeper levels of understanding. Embracing the lived experience

  • Identifying emissions and acting where it counts. Host city agreements, mega event operations. “The cars (at Williams Racing) only equate for 1/7th of our emissions” James Colgate

  • Supporting careers in STEM and sharing technologies developed by Williams engineers. “looking at programs to get people into engineering, to understand how engineering can make a difference in climate technologies” James Colgate

  • Understanding climate change moves the dial of ambition, action and acceleration. “Everyone in sport needs to wake up everyday and explain climate change to their fans, that will help the world” “It’s in our DNA…everything we do is sustainable” Fiona Morgan, Sail GP

  • Acknowledging athletes views “80% of our athletes are concerned or very concerned about climate change, 50% have been personally effected by climate change and 70% say the sport of track and field has already been impacted by climate change” Bob Ramsak, World Athletics.

Another session that is valuable to watch is Sport For Climate Action On the Race to Zero, COP26 Blue Zone, Action Hub. Website:

The new look UNS4CAF was launched at this session.

I heard a phrase I had not heard before. “Bring on Scope X”, Scope X being sport and its power to influence how people behave. I like it!

There are a large number of speakers and panelists in this session. Again a recurring theme was use your voice. An incredible example of athlete voice #DearLeadersOfTheWorld, was shown. It was pulled together by the IOC, Hannah Mills OLY and Melissa Wilson, Team GB. Inspiring.

Another way you can have your voice heard at COP as a sport is to sign the

EcoAthletes Sports Community COP26 Manifesto calling for action on climate change from a collaboration of international athletes, teams and thought leaders, it will be presented to the powers-that-be at the conference.

The Manifesto is designed to provide a voice for those present and those unable to attend the conference. Green Planet Sport has signed and supported the manifesto. I encourage the Australian Sports community to get behind this manifesto and sign on. If you are working with sports leaders and groups in the Pacific Islands please also use your voice and tell them about the Manifesto. Due to the pandemic Pacific Island nations, our neighbours and partners in sport, will be under represented in Glasgow.

When I started looking into sustainable sport in 2005 there was not much to find, just small glimmers of hope, but now hope is everywhere. In sport we can plant the seeds of hope and the ambition to act, much deeper into the consciousness of the public, perhaps, more than any other industry. We must do this, if not for ourselves, for sports smallest fans, our children and the world that they fall in love with.

Ambition – Action – Acceleration.

Sport, we got this.

How to follow Sport@COP.

There have been some great sessions at COP26 showcasing the ability of sport to be climate positive in many ways. You can find all the sessions that have happened and are still to come here:

With disparate time zones it is hard to stay up at night to watch from Australia, you don’t need to. You can watch most of the sessions on demand.

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