COP28: The sporting perspective
COP28 may have brought headlines this year with a focus on fossil fuels, and sport may not have made the main stage, but sporting organisations took the opportunity to promote the importance of sustainability in this sector.
COP28 ran between November 30 and December 12 in Dubai and was the largest ever COP with over 80,000 people attending.
Some 104,000 people, including technical and security staff, had access this year to the “blue zone” dedicated to the actual climate negotiations and the pavilions of the states and organizations present.
But what role did sport play at COP28 and what are the key takeaways from the event?
European football governing body UEFA used the opportunity to highlight its aims of making Euro 2024 the most sustainable European Championship of all time. Michele Uva, UEFA’s Director for Social and Environmental Sustainability, spoke on a panel titled ‘United by Football: Partnerships for Euro 2024’.
Uva discussed the environmental, social and governance (ESG) plan for Euro 2024, which has been backed by an investment of €32m. With a particular focus on the environment, some 43 activities have been designed to achieve 18 major targets across climate action, sustainable infrastructure and circular economy.
UEFA is a founding member of the Climate Action Framework, working together with other sporting organisations to help combat climate change, while also using sports as a tool to drive awareness and action among the public.
SailGP took the chance to inspire the next generation while also hosting the sixth round of its Season 4 calendar in Dubai, showcasing its own commitment to tackling climate change through sport.
Chief Purpose Officer Fi Morgan was very active throughout COP28, shining a light on issues but also discussing the potential solutions.
English Premier League club Liverpool decided to highlight its efforts in all areas of sustainability in Dubai. The club has been heavily focusing on sustainability since launching its ‘The Red Way’ initiative back in 2021.
The club has made changes such as running the team bus on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuel, switching to recyclable packaging and more.
Rishi Jain, LFC’s Director of Impact, said: “We were proud to have a presence at COP28 and be part of important conversations on sustainability. There are so many takeaways that will help inform the journey we are on to reduce our environmental impact to ensure we leave a lasting legacy for our people, planet and communities.
“It was really positive to see that in almost every discussion held, whether that was as part of a round-table discussion, panel or an informal conversation, the desire to increase collaboration across sports and other sectors was clear to see, and I’m looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the future.”
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) used COP28 to launch its new white paper titled ‘Accelerating a Just Transition: The Motorsport and Mobility Perspective’.
The FIA was admitted as an Observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the first time. The white paper explores a variety of sustainable technology solutions for mobility and motorsport. Topics include sustainable fuels, the future of powertrains and infrastructure, consumer engagement, as well as shared knowledge and innovation transfer between track and road.
Formula E’s Envision Racing and University of Reading professor Ed Hawkins unveiled the team’s new car, which will feature ‘Climate Stripes’.
Hawkins created the Climate Stripes, which represent the historical temperature changes of countries across the world, in 2018. The stripes aim to visually highlight the alarming trend of global warming in one image.
Envision Racing unveiled the new colours and stripes on Youth Day at COP28 in Blue Zone, with a new film narrated by Hawkins.
Claire Poole, founder and CEO of Sports Positive
Claire Poole, founder and CEO of Sports Positive, didn’t manage to journey to Dubai for COP28. Instead she published an article in Forbes, ‘Connecting COP28 Outcomes To Sport.‘
Sports were visible across the two-week summit, the highlight of which was the five-year anniversary of UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, which was launched at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.
Poole’s key takeaways from COP28 in a sporting context were:
Sport can’t dismantle the $7 trillion currently given annually in subsidies to oil, coal and gas, but sport can:
- Not seek or accept sponsorship from or align with fossil fuel organizations or those who finance or underwrite fossil fuel exploration, extraction or distribution
- Increase renewable energy capacity at sports venues and training grounds
- Encourage fans and organizations in their ecosystem and supply chain to transition to renewable energy in their own homes and businesses
- Ensure facilities, buildings and venue are as energy efficient as possible
- Collect data on energy use and energy efficiency and disclose those through effective and clear reporting
- Changing competition schedules and locations to reduce travel distances, and make routes and timing more efficient, as quickly as possible
- Encourage and incentivise fans and participants to use active and green public transport options where possible
- Power team coaches and transport with sustainable fuels
- Put guardrails and processes in place to manage staff travel, prioritize videoconferencing where possible, and mandate modes and class of travel depending on need and distance
- Collect data on staff, organization and fan travel, and disclose through effective and clear reporting
- Socialize the idea of eating less meat and dairy at sports events and in staff canteens by adding tasty plant-based options or having meat-free menus
- Use menus at sports events to educate fans on the carbon footprint of various menu items
- Use education programs and outreach to fans to help educate around food expiration dates to reduce waste
- Reduce food waste during the preparation of food for sports events and ensure any organic waste is used for energy or composted
- Platform athletes who are proponents of incorporating more plant based foods in their diet
Poole goes on to summarise
The climate negotiations in Dubai may feel—physically and/or cognitively—a world away from sport to some. Somehow “apart” from the day-to-day grind and prioritization of working in professional and grassroots sport.
However, having the privilege of knowing so many incredible change makers in global sport, I am positive that sport will play a key role in achieving the targets in these crucial areas, as we transition to a cleaner, healthier and more just future.
Susie Thomson, ThinkBeyond
So, COP28 has come to an end. An important event no doubt, and particularly valuable in highlighting the climate challenge we all face.
But I can’t help feeling deflated in the role of sport in arguably the biggest threat to modern civilisation.
I’ve spent my career presenting evidence to influence policy makers and sports leaders make better decisions. Placing value on our environment and society alongside driving economic growth.
At COP this year a range of these sports leaders challenging the status quo took to the stage, including thinkBeyond clients Fiona Morgan (SailGP), Rishi Jain (Liverpool Football Club) and World Athletics led by Bob Ramsak. We see our clients as partners on the journey and working with these organisations has been immensely rewarding.
But the sad reality is there aren’t enough individuals and organisations like them. Despite the transformative power of sport, it is way behind where it should be on becoming not just sustainable but becoming a leader in sustainability.
A case in point. Around 300 sports organisations have signed up to Sports for Climate Action– the UN’s initiative to create sports-wide standards in measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions – but few can actually credibly report emissions, and even fewer have a carbon reduction plan, let alone a climate transition plan. That fundamentally means the number of sports organisations actually making real reductions is small.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which helps companies accurately measure and report their emissions, less than a quarter of the 19,000 companies who disclosed in 2022 had climate transition plans – of which only 81 were deemed effective. That’s 0.4% of those companies reporting.
This is reflected in a sports industry study we will be releasing in full in the New Year, where three-quarters of organisations said they are taking or about to take climate action, yet only 10% are measuring scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and have set a net-zero target.
Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said on the eve of COP that world leaders must “stop dawdling and start doing”. This is certainly true for sport.
The time has come to move from intention to action. It’s not about doing less or more, it’s about doing things differently. We need leaders who are brave enough to take a different path.
At COP’s ‘Power of Sport for Climate Action’ event last week the SailGP Impact League, the ‘podium for the planet’ that financially rewards teams reducing their carbon footprint, was heralded as a standout initiative thanks to its ability to encourage both teams and athletes to engage in tackling climate change.
Last season, 75% of SailGP athletes changed their behaviour in relation to their impact on the environment and the teams cut their energy consumption by 50%. SailGP is innovating and investing in moving to a low carbon model of operations, and adapting to the impacts that will happen as a result.
The recently-reported athlete surveyfrom World Athletics states that 75% athletes have been directly impacted by climate change and 85% believe the sport have suffered because of the climate crisis. World Athletics are driving action on their sustainability priorities through their ‘Athletics for a Better World’ sustainable event standard which will leave a positive legacy from major events, influencing the supply chain and engaging fans to take positive action.
More of the world’s leading teams, leagues, tournaments and athletes need to be influencers and role models, and the urgency of change just isn’t coming from the top or within.
To see first-hand why this matters, look around at grassroots sport. Simon Stiell said at last week’s event that losing major sporting events is a “loss of intangible cultural heritage”. Clubs in various sports are grappling with the extremes of un-watered pitches and flooded fields. The least equipped to adapt are disproportionately affected. Fundamentally this mirrors the broader societal impact that compounds global inequalities.
We must actively craft impactful programmes to address these challenges, linking sustainable initiatives to on-ground climate justice action. And it is leadership that holds the key.
True leaders acknowledge the difficulty in overhauling the status quo. They recognise the urgency, refusing to wait for governmental interventions. They translate the immense challenge into actionable steps, instilling hope and belief in effecting real change.
It’s time for sports to transcend its boundaries and set an example that reverberates far beyond the field.