• 29 November 2021

After years of planning, discussion, organisation and stress, COP26 took place last month in Glasgow and - almost as quickly as it arrived - it was over.

But while there was much posturing and politicising, it was always going to be more notable for what was born out of it, than what happened during it. 

More than a day after it was meant to formally conclude, 197 countries finally agreed upon what is now being dubbed the ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, ratifying a host of new aims and ambitions.

Among them, countries committed to further accelerating decarbonisation plans and strengthening emissions reduction targets for 2030. Developed countries are now being ‘urged’ to assist developing nations, and new rules which create a framework for a global carbon market were approved. The reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 was also on the hit list. 

An impressive result, given so many conflicting stakeholders.

But while consensus was reached in the end, the one thing everyone agreed upon from the outset was that the threat of climate change is looming larger than ever.

As the conference was going on, however, the world of sport remained largely uninvolved, but as extreme weather events already threaten some events around the world, it’s important we look at the implications that we are all, undoubtedly, going to face.

Perhaps the most obvious implication of climate change on sport is the simple effect that extreme weather can have on events. In recent years, we’ve seen typhoons disrupt the 2019 Rugby World Cup, extreme heat mean the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Marathon was moved, and the Winter Olympics in Russia need artificial snow for its venues. 

As adverse weather increases, could event cancellation or property insurance become an unsustainable cost? Worcestershire County Cricket Club, for example, rarely escapes a cricket season without a flooded ground and as county budgets run thin, the impact of extreme weather could be an unavoidable death knell. 

And it’s not only event organisers that need worry. 

Extreme weather brings considerable health and wellbeing risks to athletes themselves. 

The tempo of high-level football matches continues to increase. With the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, temperatures will sky rocket. Snow games in the NFL - perhaps previously only one or two a season - are increasing rapidly, and athletes are reporting long term health implications as a result. 

Rights holders, meanwhile, need to be aware of the risks that their hosts locations are at, and a fine balance must be struck. 

The sports teams of New Orleans, for example, have too often had to play home games away from the city as it deals with hurricanes and extreme storms. The NFL, NBA and respective owners lose millions in revenue each and every time it happens, but to relocate the teams would be to strip long-term revenue from cities and towns that need it most. 

What, therefore, is the ‘right’ decision to take? 

There are legal issues, as well, for event organisers to consider. The IOC and the Japanese Olympic Committee have already been criticised for ‘bending the truth’ about temperatures in their official Games presentations - legally binding documents - and athlete earnings (or loss thereof) is likely to encourage litigation. 

One final, and more nuanced, implication may come from the direct results of COP. As companies commit to new decarbonisation plans, oil companies will be under the spotlight more than ever before. Sport is run on the money of sponsors, but as fans around the world hold their sporting institutions and athletes up as role models, the environmental footprint of brand partners will be heavily scrutinised. 

It could, ultimately, see sponsors seek greater contractual protection or take their marketing budgets elsewhere.

As it’s clear to see, sport isn’t impervious to climate change or the implications of COP - far from it. Of course, the long-term impact of the conference’s resolutions will take time to materialise, but for anyone working in sport - from rightsholder to sponsors, athlete to agent - it’s time to wake up and take the risk seriously. 

As we all, across every walk of life, aim to do more, Miller is proud to support the sport sector on its journey. 

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