Sport can only tackle issues like climate change if young professionals are trusted to create projects, develop partnerships and frame new strategies, says Niels de Fraguier
There’s no doubt that climate change is the defining issue of our time. Indeed the terminology has even been upgraded, with The Guardian newspaper replacing ‘climate change’ with ‘climate emergency’ to illustrate the gravity of the situation.
The 2018 IPCC report was crystal clear about the risks we face even if we reach the very optimistic 1.5°c rise in global temperature that we’re aiming for. And the youth population will be the ultimate victims of this phenomena.
People are already being severely impacted, with an increasing number of droughts, precipitation deficits, extreme temperatures, and the rising ocean levels. Existing post-2015 frameworks promoting development, peace, and resilience such as the Paris Agreement, Sendai Framework, or the Agenda 2030 include climate concerns – but the lack of implementation is clear and the clock is ticking.
Supported as a cost-effective tool for development and change, sport can offer solutions to raise awareness, gather funding, and make a sustainable change. The sports sector has tremendous potential to influence billions of fans following national and international competitions. Global policies have to offer solutions and applicable strategies obliging the sports industry to change its practices that will in turn influence sports fans towards sustainable lifestyles by adopting climate-friendly behaviours.
Youth movements like Fridays for Future is showing the role that youth can have in mobilising their communities. Generation Z (also called post-millennials) is taking the lead on accelerating social change and encouraging the deep transformation of our standards by pressuring the people who make decisions.
In March, more than 1.6 million students in 300-plus cities around the world abandoned school to march for climate action as part of the School Strike for Climate movement. The mobilisation of youth from all over the world has been possible thanks to the commitment of youth leaders, like Greta Thunberg, who has generated a huge amount of media interest.
This example of youth taking the lead on major movements should be an inspiration for all stakeholders. And with this in mind, the role of the youth sports sector has to be leveraged in order to ensure sport becomes a truly sustainable industry that can be held up as an example to other sectors.
In order for this to happen, meaningful youth participation should be encouraged through youth advisory committees on climate change within public and private sports organisations and National Olympic Committees, offering decision making power to youth leaders at all levels to create projects, develop partnerships and frame new strategies – in line with SDG goal 17 around improving partnerships.
In addition to providing stakeholders with innovative ideas and long-lasting concrete actions for climate, getting youth sports leaders involved would be extremely beneficial for their personal development. Empowered through a common objective of using sport as a tool for climate action, these young individuals will develop their skills, take advantage of opportunities and win the trust of sports institutions through leadership and competence.
The impact of mega sport events like the Olympic Games, as well as world and regional championships, should be at the heart of this. Side events, such as youth-led workshops, seminars or educational activities should be hosted and promoted before, during and after the events. This will strengthen the commitment of young volunteers, spectators and athletes towards more sustainable and eco-friendly behaviours.
It could foster partnerships between local organisations, encouraging their young members to run initiatives on behalf of their sport clubs or association geared towards environmental change. These initiatives could include education through sport activities, community events, volunteering and fundraising.
In regards to the Sports for Climate Action Framework initiated by the UNFCCC and other major sports stakeholders such as the IOC, FIFA and UEFA, I recommend two actions to prioritise youth participation: first of all, in the era of social media and extensive online activity, it’s crucial to emphasise the role of youth athletes. Admired and respected, these athletes have the ability to contribute to a more sustainable world by influencing their communities – more specifically, the younger generation.
Secondly, the promotion and accessibility of youth-led sport organisation has to be developed in order to involve more organisations in the achievement of sustainable development goals. At a time when there is so much uncertainty about the future health of the planet, youth aspirations and ideas should be at the forefront of the sports movement to generate innovation solutions that can be further developed and implemented.
By 2050, Africa alone is expected to have more than 226 million people under the age of 24. Already highly affected by climate change, the continent faces significant environmental, social and economic problems if we fail to change behaviours and practices. Giving Africa’s youth a voice in making this change is not just desirable, but necessary.
This perspective will offer the sports sector the chance to solve new exciting challenges in environmental innovation. It cannot wait anymore; and we urge all sports organisation to make the environment and youth participation their priority to ensure a bright future for both.
Niels de Fraguier works in the field of sport for development and peace and holds a Master’s in Sustainable Development