Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D.
President, Green Sports Alliance
The agreement reached at the Paris COP and its approval by 195 countries confirms irreversible international momentum towards dealing with global climate change.
Although the Paris accord is not designed to be an enforceable treaty, its influence on the culture of the marketplace may ultimately become as powerful as an enforceable law. In that important sense, by codifying—for the first time ever– a new global consensus about the need to move away from burning fossil fuels and preventing the temperature of the planet from increasing by 2o Celsius, (or 3.6o Fahrenheit), Paris was a indeed historic meeting. Transparent reporting mechanisms and carbon reduction commitments from 186 of the 195 signatories to the Paris accord also contribute enormously to its force.
Now, with the agreement in place, it is up to governments, businesses, and NGOs alike to confront the hard work needed to implement its provisions.
The good news is that decades of political gridlock in Washington DC, and decades during which governments throughout the world avoided responsibility for combating global warming have encouraged a proliferation of innovative, market based solutions. And now, with the framework of the Paris agreement providing incentives and direction, decarbonization technologies will capture more and more of the market. It is worth noting that although the Paris accord was negotiated and approved by governments, it will be implemented overwhelmingly by the private sector. Indeed, visitors walking through Le Grand Palais during the Paris COP saw a diverse array of businesses promoting innovative decarbonization technologies not even dreamed about ten years ago.
Also unique at the Paris COP was the organized presence of the global sports industry. The strong showing of representatives from the world of sports confirmed how pervasively the concern about global warming has penetrated popular culture.
Among other accomplishments, the Paris COP indisputably confirmed the existence of a global sports greening movement, with representatives of sports federations, leagues, teams, venues and sports businesses from throughout the world coming together to describe their efforts addressing climate change.
Sports industry symposia held over three days at Le Grand Palais and Stade De France included athletes from professional soccer, snow, and sea sports, as well as presentations from representatives of the National Hockey League, Formula E, UEFA, the Australian Sports Environment Alliance, Protect Our Winters, the Golf Environment Organization, the British Association for Sustainable Sport, the French Ministry of Sports, Arsenal, the Atlanta Falcons, and sports venue designers like HOK. (You can view videos of these organizations presentations here.)
The visibility of sports at the Paris COP is a new phenomenon for a gathering of climate negotiators. Indeed, this was the first time in the history of climate negotiations that the sports industry weighed in. In particular, it was the work of the French Ministry of Sport and the Green Sports Alliance that kept the sports industry’s concern about global climate disruption visible at the COP. And through our use of digital and social media the visibility of the sports industry at the Paris COP was broadcast throughout the world.
Will the deal achieved in Paris lead to a resolution of the challenges posed by climate change? Not in my lifetime. Does much work remain? Of course it does.
As the New York Times reported on the day after the agreement was signed:
“By itself, [the Paris agreement] will not save the planet. The great ice sheets remain imperiled, the oceans are still rising, forests and reefs are under stress, people are dying by tens of thousands in heat waves and floods, and the agriculture system that feeds seven billion human beings is still at risk.”
But one thing is clear: global cultural assumptions about how humanity needs to relate to the planet are shifting in a helpful way. And the growing embrace of responsible environmental stewardship by the global sports industry is helping to instigate that cultural shift. Indeed, as one participant told me after attending a Green Sports Alliance’s symposia at the COP, “The global sports industry might wind up having the greatest cultural influence in moving us towards a survivable carbon budget.” With billions of fans paying attention worldwide, that just might be the case.