Can we move from intention to action?

27 SEPTEMBER 2019News
Signatories of the UN Sport for Climate Action in Lausanne, Switzerland this week.

A race we must win

This week is UN Climate Week, during which scientists and politicians come together to spark greater ambition on climate change. Sport has a role to play, and SailGP and the signatories of Sport for Climate Action can help drive this – but we have to move from intention to ambitious action.

Wednesday, September 18 was the inaugural meeting of the signatories of the UNCC’s Sport for Climate Action Framework. The challenge: move from intention to action. The target is clear – limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, including a 45 percent reduction by 2030. Is this fast enough? And can sport accelerate this and demonstrate this can be achieved faster? World Sailing says 2022, the Paris Olympics by 2024 and SailGP has set 2025 as its target. We all agreed the target needed to be aggressive, but realistic, and we – partners, fans and the supply chain – need to be part of the solution. A quick offset is not the plan.

The meeting was convened in Lausanne, the home of the Olympics and a fitting setting for such a gathering. There are more than 80 signatories now, and while not all were able to attend the meeting in person, they provided input online from around the globe – at 2 a.m. in some cases – showing the commitment and significance of the event.

Participants were a mix of International Federations, major league teams and events – sporting organizations that have the power to drive change. The framework is formed of five principles and initial discussions were around how to interpret them. This then moved into what needs to be done – identifying actions and the roadmap to take us to carbon neutral. Did we already have the solution to a systematic effort – was this already defined by the ISO20121 standard? Would this be solved via education, kids, STEM and schools, or was this about building the capacity of sport and event professionals to deliver a zero-carbon business model? And what is it that we want to communicate and what are we asking people to do?

Representing SailGP, we are interested in the collaborative nature of the challenge and how different sports can work together to realize the solution and overall carbon reduction quicker. How can we bring our athletes, partners, supply chain and importantly our fans along on this journey? Our major challenges are likely to be common to most major events – passenger transport, freight and temporary power, and fuel for our support fleet. None of those are small industries to tackle alone. Collaboratively, however, we can start to have a real impact.

Take temporary power – how can we shift this to renewable, clean energy provision? We’ve trialled hybrids and used HVO – not without their own challenges in provision of fuel locally or providing sufficient power from solar hybrid. So, is the technology there? Can this be achieved now? At the scale sport needs – it would appear to be a challenge. Paris 2024 has recently put a call for proposals backed with French Government innovation funding to tackle this problem. Collaboration is absolutely what we need here to drive the supply chain to innovate, creating a significant demand from ‘sport’ rather than just one event.

Our own call for action to look for solutions to transition our support boat fleet to low or zero carbon – powered by nature, like the race boats – is not just a challenge we are facing. World Sailing has set a goal for coach boats to be zero emission by 2022, and Paris 2024 has set a zero-carbon target to achieve. Sailing and water sports were a significant component of those present in Lausanne, and we can all work together to drive the innovation needed to advance this area. Showcasing this transition alongside the onshore renewable provision is a must-do for us. Aligning the electrification of transport to the power of nature is central to SailGP.

We are working to stay true to our tagline: “Fueled by athletes. Powered by Nature.”

But what can be the real impact of our actions, can we drive scalability and really impact global carbon emissions? All the solutions we need are certainly not all there yet. In 2020, we will start our transition to electric and hybrid support boats, make HVO the standard fuel in our temporary generators where ever available, challenge our travel needs and transport logistics to maximize local sourcing, and continue to monitor and seek out technology to minimize and mitigate our carbon emissions.

Sport has a way of driving technology to win the race. And this is a race we must win.

We are committed to the Sport for Climate Action Framework, which presents 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.