COP26: Tom Daley, Andy Murray, Max Whitlock among sports stars joining call for action on climate change | News News



Sports stars call on global governments to take action on climate change as COP26 begins in Glasgow

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Sports stars call on global governments to take action on climate change as COP26 begins in Glasgow

Sports stars call on global governments to take action on climate change as COP26 begins in Glasgow

If elite athletes are finely attuned to anything, it is seizing the moment, taking that chance, making the most of any given opportunity.

Every element of their preparation is geared towards that, and especially when you’ve been preparing for four years, or even five.

Yes, we could be talking about building through an Olympic or Paralympic cycle and the quest for gold, a cycle prolonged this time by 12 months by the Covid-19 pandemic, but in this case, those involved in the Tokyo Games this summer are actually taking on a very different challenge.

More than 50 of the world’s top performers representing 40 different countries have joined forces to appeal to global governments to create a healthy and safe planet, as COP26, the UN’s climate change conference, kicks off on Monday in Glasgow.

Tom Daley, Andy Murray and Max Whitlock represent Team GB with one, two and three Olympic gold medals respectively, speak in a two-minute video which is effectively a call to action to world leaders to up their climate commitments.

Andy Murray also appears in the video, called "Dear Leaders of the World"

Andy Murray also appears in the video, called “Dear Leaders of the World”

Also featuring are Hannah Cockroft, a seven-time Paralympic champion, and men’s marathon world record holder and two-time Olympic gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge. Not a bad cast list, all in all.

The initiative, entitled “Dear Leaders Of The World”, has been created by two British athletes who are both compelling climate advocates. Hannah Mills, herself a double Olympic sailing champion, previously launched the “Big Plastic Pledge” to rid the oceans of single-use plastic, along with being a European Climate Pact Ambassador and Sustainability Ambassador for the IOC.

GB rower Melissa Wilson has previous experience in this space (in terms of lobbying politicians), having written and published a letter to the UK government calling for a green recovery to the pandemic, on behalf of eco-group Champions for Earth.

In the video, athletes ask the question “each Games seeks to deliver a lasting legacy, but how can we pass on that legacy, if there isn’t a safe and healthy planet to experience it?” And they also express their own fears, saying “heat, humidity and extreme weather conditions mean many of our sports are already under threat”.

The video concludes with an encouraging, if also expectant, statement: “Over the next fortnight we will be looking to you, and supporting you, to forge the ultimate legacy: a healthy, safe Earth for all.”

It’s normally governments, NGOs, the world of industry and business who are thrashing out the deals, trying to come to agreements that will stop the planet warming past 1.5 degrees Celsius (the commonly accepted ‘point of no return’), so what place do athletes have in all this?

Hannah Mills is a European Climate Pact Ambassador and Sustainability Ambassador for the IOC

Hannah Mills is a European Climate Pact Ambassador and Sustainability Ambassador for the IOC

Mills is unequivocal on this point, saying they should be part of the conversation: “We’re obviously not experts in climate or science, we are athletes, but there are so many athletes involved that really do have a global platform,” she says.

“Sport reaches every corner of the globe, and this is a global problem that we’re trying to solve, and it’s about coming together and it’s about unity, and I think nothing does that more than the Olympics and the athletes that are involved.”

The Rio and Tokyo gold medallist believes that there is something special in the make-up of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, because of what the exacting world of elite sport has created within them.

There are various key traits they therefore possess, which make them not just very apt advocates for the environment, but also a shining example of the approach needed to tackle the climate emergency: “There’s obviously resilience, there’s ambition, there’s dedication, determination… when things seem impossible, athletes find a way.

The effects of climate change had a big impact on the staging of events at last summer's Tokyo Games

The effects of climate change had a big impact on the staging of events at last summer’s Tokyo Games

“We do whatever’s needed, whatever’s required and that’s the sort of attitude we need in this fight, and this is literally the fight of all fights, so I’m really hoping we can inspire that attitude over the next two weeks.”

Across many sports, the effects of climate change have been acutely felt, the warning signs clear as day. The OIympic men’s and women’s marathon didn’t take place in Tokyo, and instead had to be moved 500 miles north to Sapporo because of anticipated extreme heat.

In 2020, the Australian Open tennis was affected by wildfires near Melbourne Park, the smoke billowing into the stadium complex and causing breathing difficulties for the players. And in 2019, the Rugby World Cup was hit by typhoons, forcing two matches to be cancelled on safety grounds. So the pressure is very much on for COP26 to be a resounding success.

“It is critical, we are literally running out of time every second that more action isn’t taken,” says Mills. “Our current trajectory is currently well over 1.5 degrees if we don’t cut carbon emissions as much as we need to, and as much as was outlined in the Paris Agreement five years ago, so this is the coming-together to assess that, to say: ‘Right, we’re not where we need to be, how can we do it?”.

But instead of preaching or playing some sort of blame game, Mills believes a co-operative approach is most likely to yield the best outcome.

COP26 kicks off in Glasgow on Monday

COP26 kicks off in Glasgow on Monday

“I would like everyone to see how important it is that we come at this from a global perspective, not as individual countries and not pointing fingers about who’s done what and who hasn’t done what. There’s no time for that anymore.

“We need to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected and supported by the people who can protect and support them, and we need really ambitious targets and we need really clear strategies of how we’re going to work together to achieve those in a very short timeframe.”

COP26 will obviously be the biggest tentpole in recent times in bringing these issues to the nation’s attention, but the battle for the planet clearly doesn’t stop once the world leaders have left Glasgow. Keeping the ball rolling, keeping the climate emergency on the radar is equally as important, and Mills acknowledges there is plenty more work still to do in sport.

“There’s a few threads to why we thought making a video was important, and one of them is around raising awareness among other athletes, beyond the ones we’ve got involved, about what we’re doing so we can start to create a database of athletes that do care, so we can do more projects like this or whatever it is in the future,” she says.

“Beyond this, Melissa and I are focusing on the Winter Olympics next and engaging athletes, and trying to help educate them in some of the finer points around climate change and how they can use their voices to be advocates and create the change that we need.”

This, though, is an impressive and impactful start. And if these top sportspeople, inspired by the work of Mills and Wilson, can continue to apply the pressure, surely their fanbases will follow suit, to change mindsets and behaviours to help avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. Like sport produces on occasion, it would be the most remarkable of comebacks.





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