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Sports signs up to protect nature as COP15 reaches landmark agreement to protect nearly a third of the world’s land and oceans by 2030

December 20 2022

In the week that saw the end of the United Nations COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal, Canada, more than twenty sports organisations signed the first-ever Sports for Nature framework, as part of a landmark global treaty which will see 30% of the world’s land and oceans protected by 2030.

Sports signs up to protect nature as COP15 reaches landmark agreement to protect nearly a third of the world’s land and oceans by 2030

COP15 Agreement

The COP15 agreement, which concluded after two weeks of negotiations, sets out four global goals and 23 targets, all of which are aimed at halting and reversing the devasting impact that modern society has had on biodiversity in the last fifty years.

Central to the COP15 agreement is the 30 by 30 goal, which aims to protect 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea by 2030. Additional goals include significantly reducing subsidies deemed harmful to nature, particularly around unsustainable fishing and agriculture, which has led to fish populations diminishing by 70% in the last fifty years. The target is to reduce these harmful subsidies by $500 billion, with higher-income nations supporting more vulnerable nations with biodiversity finance of $30 billion a year by 2030.

The Chinese president of COP15, Huang Runqiu, hailed the agreement as a ‘historic moment’ for the global efforts to reverse the decline of nature. Canada’s environmental minister, Steven Guilbeault, likened the deal to the UN’s landmark Paris agreement on global temperatures, stating that “we have taken a great step forward in history today.”

Sports for Nature framework

The Sports for Nature framework, signed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a founding partner along with the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024, will see the signatories pledge to adhere to the four global goals agreed at COP15.

The sports framework was co-created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“Anyone who has taken a run in a forest or sailed on a lake knows how closely sports are connected to nature. At the same time, sports also impact nature in various ways. This Framework aims to help sports organisations understand their interactions with nature and take actions to reduce negative impacts in their operations and supply chains and make an active contribution to a nature-positive future. IUCN is proud to put its expertise in service of sports to support these efforts,” General Stewart Maginnis, IUCN Deputy Director

Over 100 sports organisations were consulted on the framework, including international federations, National Olympic Committees, regional and national associations, and local teams and athletes, along with experts from academia, non-governmental organisations, science advisors, and sports sustainability consultants.

“The IOC believes everyone has a responsibility to care for the planet. As a founding partner of the Sport for Nature Framework, we want to help the sports community minimise any negative impacts on nature and inspire nature-positive action.” IOC Member Tricia Smith, who participated in the launch of the sports framework.

Signatories to the Sports for Nature framework


Initial signatories include eleven international federations:

  • International Canoe Federation (ICF)
  • International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF)
  • Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)
  • World Rowing (FISA)
  • World Sailing
  • World Skate Federation
  • International Orienteering Federation (IOF)
  • International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation (IWWF)
  • SAMBO International Federation (FIAS)
  • World University Games (FISU)
  • World Squash Federation (WSF)

Three Olympic Committees, one international and two national:

  • International Olympic Committee
  • Spanish Olympic Committee
  • Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee

One major global sporting event:

  • The Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024

Four major world series events:

  • E1 Series
  • Extreme E
  • The Ocean Race
  • Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB)

One national federation:

  • England Squash

One national football club:

  • Forest Green Rovers

Two national sports clubs:

  • AlUla Sports Club
  • We Play Green
“Paris 2024 is excited to join this initiative, as we believe sport can and should make a difference. Facing today’s challenges, Paris 2024 takes on its responsibilities by massively relying (95%) on existing or temporary sport venues to reduce its impacts, by choosing natural settings to avoid soil sealing, and by including extended nature protection principles for all its procurement. These and other efforts towards nature protection started back in 2015, in the early conception process for the Paris Games, and are being applied across all our activities through 2024, with a strong legacy mindset.” Tony Estanguet, President of Paris 2024

Signatories to the framework are committing to help develop and implement action plans for each of the four principles. They will report on their progress annually to an expert panel and will receive technical support and training to aid their efforts. This builds on the findings of UNEP’s Sports for Nature report, published in November 2022, which found that sports organisations need additional support in their efforts to conserve nature.

COP15 agreement lacks accountability

Several more sports organisations are set to sign up to the Sports for Nature Framework in the coming days and months, although many of those involved in Montreal felt the COP15 agreement should have gone further.

Many observers felt that the final agreement lacked accountability, largely because of loosely-worded targets that lack clearly measurable outcomes. Some are concerned that this will make it more difficult to measure and track progress.

One delegate, Ioannis Agapakis from environmental law firm ClientEarth, stated that the agreement represents an “incremental improvement” on the previous Aichi goals, but felt that it still didn’t go far enough.

These criticisms make clear that that there is an ongoing and urgent need for clear guidelines and reporting frameworks, both for the broader COP15 goals and for initiatives in a sporting context.

“There is an urgent need to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and everyone, including sports and recreation, must play a role. The Sports for Nature Framework is a step in the right direction. Thank you to IOC, IUCN and UNEP for joining forces under the Convention on Biological Diversity in this ground-breaking initiative to bring action for biodiversity from sports worldwide. It is encouraging to see this level of commitment from sports federations, leagues, clubs, and events, and I challenge all sports organisations to follow suit by taking urgent action for biodiversity.” Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity

There is no doubt that the Sports for Nature Framework is a step forward in the fight to protect biodiversity, but there is a long way to go before the world’s land and oceans are protected and the loss of wildlife is restored to its former levels of fifty years ago.

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    Read moreMike Laflin/Bethany White