Sally Munday, CEO, UK Sport
Earlier this week UK Sport became a signatory of the UN Sports for Climate Action, in the process committing to halving our carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2040.
While an important step, we are acutely aware that we, and much of the Olympic and Paralympic sport sector, have a significant amount of catching up to do in embedding environmental sustainability in our work. Some organisations are more advanced than others, but collectively we must prioritise our sustainability efforts and make the most of the opportunities available to us.
The effects of climate change are being felt globally and locally; by people, by society, and by the sports we know and love. Training facilities, tracks, and pitches are being flooded. Extreme heat is impacting on training camps and competitions. Disruption to travel and competition schedules is also an increasing problem.
By 2050, the average athlete could experience up to 70% more extremely hot days compared to 1990 (Salter Baxter, 2021) and likewise, only 10 out of 19 (former) Winter Olympic hosts will be reliable winter sport destinations by 2050; just 6 by 2080.
That’s not all. We know the fans of the future are concerned too. This summer YouGov found that “sports fans in the gen z cohort are significantly more likely to select climate change and green energy as their primary concern than fans in any other age group”. Likewise, 84% of the British public are concerned about climate change and just last year climate change and pollution were identified by the British public as the second biggest concern for the country, after COVID.
The evidence is as glaring as the rationale for urgent action. Sport has the power to bring people together and drive positive change. At UK Sport, we have a responsibility to operate in the most sustainable way possible, but we must also use our position and voice to inspire others to act.
We are in the final stages of establishing our carbon emissions baseline, which will help us develop the decarbonisation pathway required for us to halve our emissions over the next eight years, to 2030. We will then explore how we can further accelerate our progress in this space and consider the role that sport can play in driving a net gain in biodiversity.
We know that our greatest environmental impact comes through our investments in World Class Programmes and Major Sporting Events. We are in the process of developing an Environmental Sustainability Strategy which as well as focusing on our own operations, will outline how we can support those into which we invest to act. We will be urging all Olympic and Paralympic sports and our partners to align themselves to the UN Sports for Climate Action’s five principles:
Principle 1: Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility;
Principle 2: Reduce overall climate impact;
Principle 3: Educate for climate action;
Principle 4: Promote sustainable and responsible consumption;
Principle 5: Advocate for climate action through communication.
There is no doubt in my mind that to be fit for the future, all sporting organisations require robust sustainability principles at their core.
We have a collective responsibility to act and accelerate our work to ensure sport is sustainable for future generations. I urge leaders from across Olympic and Paralympic sport to join us and be bold and ambitious in transforming our sector.