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Sports world pledges to cut climate-fueling emissions by half this decade

The National Basketball Association, professional baseball, hockey and soccer teams, international motor sports, tennis pros, surfers, runners and wrestlers are accelerating their campaign to fight climate change.

At events Tuesday and Wednesday at the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, universities, professional and amateur leagues from across the world announced new or intensified pledges to cut climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions from their sports in half this decade, starting immediately.

They include the U.S. Tennis Association, Formula E all-electric motorsports, World Surf League, United World Wrestling, NFL Green, the New York Yankees, the New York Mets, and the athletic departments of the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Miami and Ohio State University.

“Few sectors have the power to inspire and the global appeal that sports does. We call on the other sports leaders to follow this lead,” said Prince Albert II of Monaco, chair of sustainability for the International Olympic Committee, speaking at the climate conference.

The sports leagues’ effort acknowledges that major sporting events significantly add pollution to accumulating pollution in Earth’s atmosphere, according to the “Sports for Climate Action” framework established under the United Nations four years ago and accelerated this year at COP 26.

“Few sectors have the power to inspire and the global appeal that sports does. We call on the other sports leaders to follow this lead,” said Prince Albert II of Monaco, chair of sustainability for the International Olympic Committee, speaking at the climate conference.

The World Surf League and more than 200 other sports organizations have pledged to beat climate change. Credit: World Surf League, COP 26

It also recognizes that the degraded climate is flooding sports venues, deteriorating playing surfaces and race tracks, fueling toxic algae blooms that derail outdoor water sports, reducing natural snowfall needed for certain winter sports, and disrupting events with unseasonal heat, cold, rainfall and storms, according to the Sports for Climate Action framework.

“Four years since we launched the Sports for Climate Action framework, more than 280 sports organisations have committed to the overarching objectives of aligning sport with the goals of the Paris agreement [established at COP 21 in 2015],” said UN Climate Change Executive Director Patricia Espinosa at a broadcast from Glasgow.

“The sector eagerly took up the challenge, but also told us that they want to do more and to do it faster. These organisations are now being challenged to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2030 at the latest and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040,” Espinosa said.

Representatives of a few of the sporting organizations spoke at a panel discussion in Glasgow on Wednesday.

“Formula 1 overall reaches over 2 billion people across the world, and it’s that platform that gives us the ability to influence, inform and educate others around the world,” said James Colgate, representing London-based Williams Racing. He said Formula 1 race cars contribute just around 1 percent of the sector’s pollutants, while travel, shipping and construction of infrastructure constitute the vast majority of it.

Colgate said Formula 1 cars have run on hybrid-energy engines since 2009 and that Williams Racing and others are developing clean-energy tracing technology that can be shared with other sectors.

Fiona Morgan, director of purpose and impact at Sail GP – promoting international grand prix sailing races of high-performance catamarans — said her company has placed sustainability at the center of sailing boat manufacturing, business operations, and hosting of events around the world.

“We want the world to be powered by nature,” Morgan said, explaining that participants must adhere to specific green standards and foster sustainable development in underdeveloped countries.

Many signatories of climate-action pledges have or are developing climate-friendly, LEED-certified stadiums and venues built with non-polluting materials and powered by clean energy such as solar. Examples include the Champions Center at Colorado University Boulder and the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, home of the National Hockey League’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken.

Laura Cassels is a reporter for the Florida Phoenix, which first published this report and like NC Policy Watch, is a member of the States Newsroom network.

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