Avoiding game, set and match: Sport at COP26

Today is apparently the day "when sport will come into focus in Glasgow". This may come as a surprise to many a sports fan given that when people talk about climate change they do not typically start talking about the impacts of their favourite sports team.

However, the link between climate change and sport is there for all to see. Increasing temperatures, extreme weather events and flooding are all part of what climate change means for the world going forwards and are all things that can impact on our ability to enjoy whatever game, match or competition we want to on any given day. And sport is not just impacted by climate change, climate change is impacted by sport. While the impacts will vary depending on the sport, the emissions from an F1 car, the water used to maintain football's hallowed turfs and any match day's logistics (transport, food etc.) are all ways in which sport is contributing towards climate change.

Which is why sport is on the COP26 agenda. In particular, the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework is set to announce it will be increasing its expectations of its sports organisation members (of which there are 273, including the likes of the International Olympic Committee, NBA's Golden State Warriors, the Premier League's Tottenham Hotspur and F1's McLaren Racing). The new expectations will be that members:

  • achieve a 50% reduction in overall CO2 emissions by 2030;
  • achieve net zero by 2040; and
  • submit annual reports to the UN on progress to achieve these goals.

Alongside the UN's efforts, EcoAthletes has also launched a COP26 Sports Community Manifesto (already endorsed by over 150 athletes, sports teams and organisations and thought leaders) which aims to unite the sports community to help achieve the four goals of COP26 (Achieve global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; Mobilise finance for climate initiatives; Work together to deliver climate action).

As with other sectors, there is clearly a direction of travel towards increased expectation on climate action. While it is hard to see fans giving up life-long allegiances over a failure to act, with an uptake in the number of high-profile stars speaking about climate change (Sky Sports' Playing for the Planet podcast series is well worth a listen) this may start to move the needle on fan expectations. At a more fundamental level, sports companies are businesses and so will also be driven to take action by the shifting regulatory landscape and investor expectations. They may not be the immediate focus of NGOs and regulators, but with the latest UN scientific report warning climate change is "code red for humanity", everyone has a role to play.

It's bottom of the ninth, we're two down with nobody on - the time for the big play is now.