Climate crisis on our doorstep but less than 0.1% of the sports industry engaged with the UNFCCC Sport for Climate Action Framework

May 18 2023

The need for urgent action on the climate crisis became ever more obvious this week as the World Meteorological Organisation announced that global temperatures are likely to reach record new levels over the next five years.

Climate crisis on our doorstep but less than 0.1% of the sports industry engaged with the UNFCCC Sport for Climate Action Framework

Scientists from around the world have issued a stark warning that the Earth is on track to breach the critical 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) temperature rise by the year 2027. This alarming revelation underscores the urgency of global efforts to combat climate change and highlights the need for immediate and decisive action.

The 1.5°C threshold was established as an important target by the 2015 Paris Agreement, a landmark international accord aimed at limiting global warming and its detrimental impacts. The agreement recognizes that surpassing this limit could trigger irreversible consequences, such as more frequent and intense heatwaves, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and the endangerment of vulnerable ecosystems and species.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, the breaching of the 1.5°C threshold could only be temporary, but it would represent the increasing impact that society is having on the global climate system.

According to Professor Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the WMO:

This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5C specified in the Paris agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.

Sport organisations have become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on sport as well as the impact sport has on the environment.

Credit: World Surf League

Credit: World Surf League

The UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework

Launched in 2018, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) developed the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework, which aimed to promote sustainable practices and raise awareness about the impacts of climate change through sports.

The UN Framework is one of a handful of major international standards and frameworks that cater to the sports industry, including the ISO 20121 certification, the UN Race to Zero, and the more recent UN Sports for Nature framework.

The UNFCC Framework currently has over 250 signatories from sports organisations across the world, including clubs, teams, events, federations, venues, suppliers, and Olympic committees. Organisations large and small from sports including athletics, basketball, cycling, football, motor racing, sailing, and tennis are represented, covering Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

But in the last year the membership of this group has seen significant changes. While a number of major sports organisations have recently signed up to the framework, other leading sports organisations have recently left the programme.

Sports for Climate Action Framework: Five key principles

The Sports for Climate Action Framework encourages sports entities to commit to five key principles:

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce the overall climate impact
  3. Educate and advocate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication

Signatories are requested to commit to halving emissions by 2030 and achieving ‘net zero’ by 2040, taking into account Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Importantly, in December 2021 signatories were required to put into place a ‘Pledge, Plan, Proceed, and Report’ process. This required organisations to make an official pledge; submit their plans for achieving their targets within 12 months of joining the framework; take immediate action on climate goals; and, notably, to submit annual public reporting.

Original UNFCCC signatories from across the world of sport

Over the past few years over 270 sports organisations of all sizes from across the world have become signatories to the framework, representing all sectors of the sports industry.

From the international federation world, over 40 major governing bodies joined the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee in becoming original signatories to the framework. These included Olympic sports like archery, athletics, basketball, biathlon, cycling, equestrian, football, golf, ice hockey, judo, rugby, sailing, skating, skiing, triathlon and wrestling and non-Olympic sports like floorball, orienteering, sport climbing, and teqball.

In addition to the international federations nearly 40 national federations also signed up to the framework from an equally diverse set of sports including bowls, motor racing, rugby league, sport climbing, surfing, and tennis.

Other major signatories included football clubs like Arsenal, FC Köln, Juventus, LA Galaxy, Liverpool, and Southampton; Olympic Committees from countries including Australia, Botswana, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, and Spain; events such as the Banff Marathon, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Paris 2024, and the Ocean Race; and media companies like BBC Sport, Sky Sport, Discovery and the European Broadcasting Union.

Recent departures from the UNFCCC

At the end of 2022, the list of signatories to the framework had not changed for some time. However, the list has been recently updated, and shows a significant change from the original list of signatories.

From the original list of more than 270 signatories over 90 sports organisations have left the programme, representing nearly a third of the original members.

Notable amongst these departures are the two most recent Olympic Games in Beijing, China and Tokyo, Japan. In China’s case Beijing was the only UNFCCC signatory and its departure means that China is no longer represented in the UNFCCC. Given that China is recognised as one the leading emitters of Green House Gas emissions it is a shame to see that sport is not leading the way in helping promote the reduction of CO2 emissions in China.

Similarly, the departure of Tokyo 2020 heralded a major exit of Japanese organisations from the list. Seven of the ten Japenese signatories departed alongside Tokyo 2020, with just three Japanese organisations remaining: Alvark Tokyo, Gunma Crane Thunders and Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.

Other signatories that have recently left the framework include the national federation for rugby in France, the Federation Francaise de Rugby, the host nation for the Rugby World Cup in 2023; the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), which was recently disbanded at the end of 2022, its role being moved to SportAccord; and a number of international federations including bowling, skating and surfing.

Football dominates the sport signatories on the UNFCCC but notable football clubs that left the framework this year include Paris Saint-Germain, Fortuna Düsseldorf 1895 e.V. and Los Angeles FC. Other major sports organisations leaving included the Melbourne Cricket Club, European Professional Club Rugby, Qatar Olympic Committee, Loughborough University and Ohio State University.

New Signatories to the UNFCCC framework

Whilst nearly 90 organisations have left the UNFCCC framework, over 75 organisations have joined in the last year, showing the number of sports organisations that are starting to take climate action and sustainability more seriously.

In addition to the 40 plus international federations that are existing signatories, three Olympic sports joined the framework, namely the International Canoe Federation (ICF), the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), leaving just a handful of Olympic sports yet to sign up. One non-Olympic international sports federation, World Lacrosse, also added its name to the list, as did the International University Sports Federation (FISU) along with FISU Oceania.

Sixteen national federations, mostly from Europe, including the Dansk Automobil Sports Union, England Squash, the Finnish Golf Union, the Hellenic Basketball Federation and the Swedish Athletics Association have signed up to the framework alongside non-European federations like the Tonga National Basketball Association, Water Polo Australia, the Korea Billiards Federation and the Oman Athletic Association.

Other notable organisations to have also joined the framework include UK Sport, the English Premier League, Commonwealth Games England, and Olympic Committees from Cambodia, Croatia, Finland, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Portugal, and Zambia.

Less than 0.1 % of the sports industry are signatories

Despite the growing number of signatories to the framework over the past five years, it is significant that a number of organisations have also left, raising concerns over how the UNFCCC can encourage more engagement from the sports industry.

 

According to Global Sustainable Sport’s analysis there are more than 380,000 organisations involved in the sports industry, with the UNFCCC signatories representing less than 0.1%.

What is not clear is why so many organisations have left the UN’s major framework for climate action in the sports sector given the increasing urgency over climate change.

The framework’s mandatory public reporting requirement, introduced in 2019, could have played a role in a number of organisations leaving or being removed from the framework, as organisations could lack the infrastructure or resources to meet the requirements. If this is the case, it raises some important questions for the sports industry about the urgent need for an inclusive framework for sport. A truly comprehensive framework would not only address the urgent need for climate action but also cover important areas like the ocean, biodiversity, and social and economic issues that are increasingly challenging sport and the planet.

As the world reaches the halfway point on its journey to the climate targets of 2030, and scientists continue to sound the alarm around rising temperatures, the need for concrete action, cross-sector collaboration, open communication, and transparent reporting become ever more crucial.

Sports stakeholders can play a key role in using the collective voice of sport to address many of these issues and urgently need to come together to use sport to deliver a more sustainable future for the planet. With the fluctuating numbers of organisations signed up to the UNFCCC that is a long way from happening, despite a climate crisis that is on our doorstep.

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