We all have an understandable desire to protect the things we love. I happen to love sport – and winter sports in particular. Thirty years ago I remember poring over snow depth charts from the national park where I spent as much time as possible snowboarding. Those charts showed a downward trend in snow depths, opening my eyes to the possibility that a changing climate could negatively affect the places and sports that I love. It was sad to contemplate a future with shorter ski seasons and fewer powder days.
Scientific understanding of climate change, its drivers and impacts has expanded greatly in the last thirty years. It is clear that the relationship between sport and climate change cuts both ways – while sport is increasingly affected by climate impacts, the sport sector itself contributes to the problem. For those of us whose lives revolve around sport and the outdoors, we have an opportunity to position the sport sector for a low-carbon future, so that generations to come will have access to the same experiences we have enjoyed in our lifetimes.
Climate change and why it matters to sport
A recent Canadian study contains some stark conclusions – particularly that Canada’s climate has warmed and will warm further in the future, driven by human influence. Notably, both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the global mean temperature increases. The effects of widespread warming are projected to intensify in the future and include more extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, earlier spring peak streamflow, thinning glaciers, thawing permafrost, and rising sea level.
Many sports stand to be affected by warming temperatures and other extreme weather, not just those winter sports that depend on reliable snow and ice. While direct causality is not always clear, over the last year extreme weather conditions have made their presence felt at a long list of sport events. Consider the 2020 Australian Open tennis (heat and smoke); the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan (Typhoon Hagibis); and the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field championships in Qatar (extreme heat). As event organizers, we need to anticipate, develop contingency plans, and adapt to the changes that are already underway to ensure continued positive experiences for athletes and spectators.
However, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the globe. Staying below 1.5˚C of warming means that we have to reduce GHG emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. Meeting the scale of the challenge requires action by all sectors to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
The sport sector makes significant contributions to GHG emissions, and so equally, sport has a role to play in tackling climate change. The travel and logistics involved in bringing people together at sport events comes at an environmental cost. For example, each Canada Games involves thousands of athletes, volunteers, spectators and stakeholders traveling from across Canada, generating significant GHG emissions. While it is impossible for the sport sector to avoid all travel-related emissions, there are other options to consider, such as purchasing carbon offsets. Our first task is to carefully analyze our operations and identify opportunities to reduce our climate impacts. The current context of the pandemic is forcing many sport organizations to reconsider our essential operating models, providing a unique opportunity to consider new approaches.
At the Canada Games Council, we are passionate about our Games, the Canadian sport landscape and the positive role of sport in society. Now, more than ever, we need to work collaboratively to reduce the environmental footprint of our events and drive global climate action for a safer planet. That is why we made the decision to join the Sports for Climate Action Framework.
The Sports for Climate Action Framework
In December 2018, UN Climate Change, in partnership with the International Olympic Committee, launched the “Sports for Climate Action Framework.” The Framework sets the course for the global sport community to respond to climate change in a systematic and comprehensive manner. The approach builds on sport’s unique ability to inform and mobilize millions of people around a love of sport. Sport organizations can display leadership on global climate action by taking responsibility for their climate footprint and inspiring others to take action on climate change beyond the sport sector.
When the Canada Games Council signed onto the Framework in December 2019, we committed to strengthening our sustainability efforts and increasing our level of ambition for climate action. We are aiming to advance our sustainability practices across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Canada Games, while supporting our Host Societies and partners in their efforts to do the same. These efforts will touch on everything from office services, sport operations, transportation, capital construction, food services, venue overlay to merchandising. We will strive towards the following five commitments in the Framework:
- 1. promote greater environmental responsibility;
- 2. reduce overall climate impact;
- 3. educate for climate action;
- 4. promote sustainable and responsible consumption; and
- 5. advocate for climate action through our communications.
Well over 100 sports organizations have already joined the Framework, including:
- 1. The IOC, Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and Paris 2024;
- 2. National Basketball Association;
- 3. International Ski Federation;
- 4. World Rowing Federation;
- 5. International Federation of Association Football; and
- 6. International Ice Hockey Federation.
I look forward to teaming up with other Canadian participants, such as the Banff Marathon and Surf Canada, while exploring opportunities to collaborate with other organizations such as Protect Our Winters.
The Canada Games celebrate and showcase Canada’s next generation of athletes and leaders. I am constantly impressed by the passion, clarity and urgency that youth bring to the dialogue about the world that they will inherit. On this issue we can help educate our athletes and other participants, empowering them to advocate for climate action in their own communities.
The challenges of climate change will not be solved in one day, or one year, or with one environmentally sustainable event. It is important to realize that we do not need to have all the answers before taking any action at all. I know that we certainly do not. But by committing to the principles in the Sports for Climate Action Framework, the Canada Games has raised its level of ambition and taken the next step in its journey towards sustainability. This is a race we can win and we would welcome other Canadian partners in contributing to the realization of this goal.
About the Author
Dan Wilcock, President and CEO of the Canada Games Council, is a lawyer by background and has served in a number of executive roles in the Government of Canada, in areas including environmental policy, international relations, competition law and marketing law. He has experience in high-level sport as a competitor, coach and organizer in snowboarding, which he helped develop in Australia and the US. Dan has participated in almost every sport on the Canada Games program.