The GSB Interview: Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu; Leading the Way at the UN on Sports For Climate Action

The Sports for Climate Action Framework, launched by the sport sector UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December, has gotten off to a strong start.

In its first six months, an A-List of sports governing bodies, leagues and teams — from FIFA to the IOC, from the NBA to the All England Lawn Tennis Association (aka Wimbledon), from the New York Yankees to the Minnesota Wild — have committed to doing their part to achieve the Framework’s two main objectives:

  1. Achieve a clear trajectory for the global sports community to combat climate change, including measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the 1.5 degree Celsius scenario enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, and

  2. Use sports as a unifying tool to create solidarity among global citizens for climate action.

How did the Framework come together? How will the UN measure how signatories are living up to their commitments — or not?

We asked these questions, and more, of Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu who led development of the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lindita, I’ve wanted to talk with you for some time about the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. How did it come to be? And what is your role — and the UN’s?

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu: Our role at the UN Climate Change is to catalyze action on climate change at a significant scale. While we are not experts on sports, we can help corporations and other entities set the strategic vision that will help them to take climate action. That means providing support via our convening power and knowledge and working with them to set meaningful greenhouse gas GHG emission reduction and other targets that tie into the Paris Climate Agreement and the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GSB: Why did the UNFCCC decide to work with the sports industry? Its emissions are relatively low compared to many other business categories.

Lindita: We have one ultimate goal as a civilization if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change: to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

It will take the combined efforts of all segments of society — sports included – to achieve the change that is needed throughout society. —These changes will result in a low-emissions, highly-resilient and more sustainable future. There is no other future but a sustainable future. So, sports’ GHG emissions impact on climate may be low compared to some other industries, but nevertheless it does have a substantial impact that increasingly needs to be addressed. Sports are also uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for change by promoting sustainable consumption, low carbon transport, and by educating fans and society at large.

 

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu

Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu (Photo credit: UN Climate Change)

 

GSB: How did you get sports governing bodies, leagues, and teams to start the climate conversation?

Lindita: Well it turns out that, going back a few years, several key actors in the sports industry had expressed interest in taking action on climate, how to operate in a way that would meet the Paris goals and use the power of sports to spur climate action. So, in 2017, we convened a meeting in Bonn, Germany among some of the biggest governing bodies, leagues and teams in sports, to discuss what a climate action agenda for sports could look like.

It was clear then that the industry would have to do more to get their environmental houses in order before promoting climate more broadly. Some sports organizations were advanced in walking the climate action walk, others were not quite there yet. To help them move forward, together we developed what became the Sports for Climate Action Framework and its five principles:

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication.

Our goal there was to make getting to the five principles easier by providing a global platform that would be built on best practice climate action, convened by the UN Climate Change and developed by the sector for the sector.

GSB: How do you go about doing that?

Lindita: Well, the environment we’re in is more favorable. The science is clear, young people are protesting, climate change as an issue is becoming much more front and center because we are seeing its impacts every day. Sports is front and center and what does it connote? Health, fun, and prosperity. What’s at risk for sports from climate change?

GSB: Health, fun and prosperity for starters…

Lindita: Right! It’s only natural for sports to get involved on climate. In fact, it’s good business for sports to lead on climate.

GSB: Amen, Lindita! Now it’s one thing for the IOC, FIFA, and now the New York Yankees, University of Colorado Athletics Department, NBA and more to commit to taking action on climate. How will fans know the signatories are winning on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction scoreboard?

Lindita: Of course, this is a crucial aspect of the Framework. We will be getting together with the signatories in Lausanne at a meeting hosted by the IOC in September to dive deeper into the framework principles and to jointly define roadmaps to adhering to them and to articulate what best of action and success would look like.

We will work together with our signatories to define these steps, metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of the principles. This will also include reporting guidance, which will be built on best practice reporting standards. It will also include publicly reporting on the progress with commitments and we will explore how to best use UN Climate Change’s Global Climate Action platform, a searchable, user-friendly website where non-State actors can describe what they’re doing to combat climate change.

 

Yankees Earth Day

The New York Yankees communicated their commitment to operate by the tenets of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework with a pre-game Earth Day ceremony. From left to right, it’s Doug Behar, Yankees Director of Operations; Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General; Yankees manager Aaron Boone, and Allen Hershkowitz, Environmental Science Advisor to the Yankees (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

GSB: I hope and would expect most signatories will walk the Sports for Climate Action walk. Is there a remedy for any who don’t fulfill their commitments?

Lindita: We can revoke a signatory’s status as part of the Framework for non-performance. But we will collectively work to help any organizations that have difficulty making good on their commitments and adhering to the principles.

GSB: Two of the principles that are of particular interest to me are #3 — Educate for climate action, and #5 — Advocate for climate action through communication. The willingness of sports organizations to share their climate action stories with fans through the media has, for the most part, been lacking. And, with the welcome exception of Sky Sports in Great Britain, the sports media has largely ignored climate. What can the UNFCCC do to change this? And how do you plan to measure adherence to these principles? 

Lindita: I think the Framework is a big step towards that – with sports organizations recognizing their influence and the importance of them using it, for the good of their sports, their businesses, and their fans. But really, there will be no ignoring climate change.

We’re seeing that already, with the extreme weather events, floods, heat waves. I think that goes for the adherence to the principles as well. People will see which organizations are truly acting on climate change, and which are only talking about acting on climate change. And, I think public opinion – the supporting, paying fans – will demand the real thing. What we can do, and are doing, at UN Climate Change is to work with sports organizations to state their principles, state their goals, and help them communicate their progress – and communicate a message to everyone, urging global climate action.

 

GSB: Oh I agree there can be no ignoring climate change, but the world is still not paying enough attention yet and time to make significant dents in GHG emissions is short. I think for the Framework to maximize its impact, the sports media from all corners of the world will need to play a key role as they are the conduit to billions of sports fans. With that in mind, will UN Climate Change consider inviting sports media executives to the September meeting in Lausanne? If not, how would your organization look to involve the sports media going forward?

Lindita: The meeting in Lausanne is a working meeting and open to signatories of Sports for Climate Action framework. Principle 5 of the framework is about promoting awareness about climate change by mobilizing resources that sports have, to support action on climate change. This includes the broadcast sports media as well. As I said, we will get together to prepare a strategy that strikes a balance between ambitious and realistic and figure out what can we do collectively to reinforce the message of ambitious climate action.

GSB: Good to hear that the sports media is on Sports for Climate Action’s radar. Would it be possible for those companies to be signatories in the future?

Lindita: The Sports for Climate Action Framework is tailored for sports governing bodies, federations, leagues, teams, clubs, and not specifically for media. That said, the Framework would probably benefit from having categories, other than signatory, to support the work and amplify the message of sports for global climate action. And, sports media might be eager to engage with the Framework more formally, for example as designated media partners at events. We’ll work with the Framework signatories to come up with a strategy for that sort of thing, to amplify news about their climate work and importantly their engagement with fans. The role of the media in meeting the objectives of the Framework is clear. By doing what they do best – reporting on sports and the myriad interesting stories relating to sports – the media can do so much to make the Framework efforts a success, and spur climate action. Sports media, just like other sections of the media, are concerned with timely, topical and interesting news and features. That means the media will want to be reporting on climate-related sports matters.

 


 

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NBA Signs On To UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework; Who’s Got Next?

The UNFCCC’s Sports For Climate Action Framework has gotten some serious traction from the US sports world recently. Last month, the New York Yankees became the first pro sports team to sign on to the framework. And yesterday, the NBA became the first pro league to make the commitment.

 

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced yesterday that the NBA had become the first pro sports league in the US to sign on to its Sports for Climate Action initiative.

 

NBA UNFCCC

The UNFCCC’s tweet announcing that the NBA signed on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework

Launched in December, the Framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.

The Framework welcomes the NBA to its impressive list of A-List early adapters, including FIFA, the IOC, Fédération Française de Tennis, FFT, and the New York Yankees. Signatories commit to support Sport for Climate Action’s five core principles:

 

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication

With its massive global fan base and its particular popularity among millennials and Gen-Z’ers, the NBA is a terrific get for the Framework. According to the league:

  • The NBA has 150 million followers on social media
  • One billion people around the world have access to the NBA Finals
  • It is the most popular sports league in China, where over 300 million people play basketball
  • The NBA, in collaboration with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, will launch the Basketball Africa League (BAL) in 12 countries¹ in January

Signing on to the Sports for Climate Action Framework is certainly the biggest green step taken by the league to date. Its sustainability foundation has largely been built by forward-leaning teams and a smattering of eco-athletes:

  • The Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center became the world’s first arena to earn LEED Platinum certification.

 

Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center, LEED Platinum home of the Sacramento Kings (Photo credit: Sacramento Kings)

 

  • Portland’s Trail Blazers have hosted five “Green Games” per season at the Moda Center since 2015. The club invites its fans to take an active part in its efforts to be more environmentally conscious and to help reach a set of green goals (around energy, waste, food, water, and transportation) at the arena by 2025.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals-bound Milwaukee Bucks, along with four other NBA players, launched Hoops₂O to teach East Africans to dig wells for fresh water.

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to the NBA for joining the Sports for Climate Action Framework. Given the NBA’s brand image — cool, progressive, cutting edge — GSB will explore in the coming months if this commitment will be the beginning of a full-throated approach to the climate change fight from commissioner Adam Silver, its teams, sponsors and more of its players. I may sound like a broken record but, per the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), humanity has 12 years to cut our carbon emissions by 45 percent in order to avoid the most calamitous effects of climate change.

 

 

Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA (Photo credit: NBA)

 

Beyond basketball, in the parlance of playground hoops, the question becomes “Who’s Got Next?” — as in which leagues and events will join the NBA in signing on to the Sports For Climate Action Framework. I am surprised the NHL, the only league to issue a sustainability report — it has done so twice — has not joined the Framework. Hopefully that will change soon. The US Tennis Association, which has a very strong greening track record, seems like a logical signee sometime before the US Open starts in August.

You may ask, “What about the NFL, MLB, and MLS?”

Great question. Whaddya say, commissioners Roger Goodell (NFL), Rob Manfred (MLB), and Don Garber (MLS)? 

 

¹ Teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia expected to be represented in BAL

 


 

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Yankees Sign On To UN Sports for Climate Action Framework; Strongest Public Commitment to Climate Change Fight Among North American Pro Sports Teams

The Yankees’ announced today they have added their name to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, making them the first North American professional sports team to do so. The groundbreaking move by the Bronx Bombers drew praise from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. 

 

The New York Yankees are off to a middling start on the field in 2019, with a 2-3 record after last night’s 3-1 loss to Detroit¹ but, from a Green-Sports perspective, the team is leading the field.

The 27-time World Champions today became the first major North American sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Launched by UN Climate Change in December, the Framework’s aim is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.

 

Yankee Stadium II

Yankee Stadium (Photo credit: New York Yankees)

 

Before I go on to the rest of the story, just pause and let the following sink in:

The New York Yankees, the most storied and successful franchise in North American sports history, just made a clear, definitive, public commitment in support of the climate change fight.

Allen Hershkowitz, the Yankees’ newly-minted Environmental Science Advisor and Chairman of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), framed the organization’s climate promises this way: “This announcement by the Yankees, due to their powerful, iconic brand, has the chance to change cultural assumptions about sports and climate action. The organization, from the top down, recognizes they, the sports world more broadly, and all of humanity, are facing a global climate crisis. The hope is that, if the Yankees can do this, other teams across all sports — many of which have taken similar actions — will feel emboldened to make their own commitments to the Framework.”

And those pledges have real teeth.

In addition to the GHG reduction and offsetting guarantees, the Yankees and the other signatories to the Framework, have promised to support the following principles:

  • Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  • Reduce overall climate impact
  • Educate for climate action
  • Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  • Advocate for climate action through communication

 

YANKEES JOIN GLOBAL ALL-STAR TEAM OF SPORTS ORGANIZATIONS JOINING THE FRAMEWORK

The Yankees have been at the cutting edge of Green-Sports since moving into the current iteration of Yankee Stadium in 2009. From attaining Zero-Waste status (i.e. diverting 90 percent or more of waste from landfill via recycling, composting and other methods) to funding the distribution of clean burning cookstoves to women in East Africa that will help public health while reducing carbon emissions, and much more, the Yankees have already started down the path to reaching their Framework commitments.

The organization joins numerous prominent international high profile sports organizations committed to the Framework, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, the French Tennis Federation-Roland Garros, Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, 2021 Rugby League World Cup, Formula E, and others.

“The New York Yankees are proud to support the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework,” said Yankees’ Principal Owner and Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner in a press release. “For many years, the Yankees have been implementing the type of climate action now enshrined in the Sports for Climate Action principles, and with this pledge the Yankees commit to continue to work collaboratively with our  sponsors, fans and other relevant stakeholders to implement the UN’s climate action agenda in sports.”

 

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SOUNDS LIKE A YANKEES FAN — AT LEAST FROM A GREEN-SPORTS PERSPECTIVE

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recognized the importance of having a team as prominent and influential as the Yankees endorse the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

 

Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Photo credit: Forbes)

“I welcome the announcement by the New York Yankees to join Sports for Climate Action,” Mr. Guterres said. “With their rich winning tradition, the Yankees bring a new level of leadership to global efforts to tackle climate change. When it comes to safeguarding our future, it’s time to play ball.”

 

GSB’s Take: I am particularly proud to be a lifelong Yankees fan today. Kudos to team management, from Hal Steinbrenner on down, for moving to become the first North American professional sports franchise to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Because of the competitive nature of pro sports, I expect other MLB teams to follow suit and for teams in other sports to do so as well. I will be interested to see how the Yankees communicate this commitment to their fans, both at the ballpark and those who follow the team on TV, online and elsewhere.

 

¹ It’s early!

 


 

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South Pole Measures Carbon Footprint for FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro Championships; Helps Members of Auto Racing’s FIA Offset Emissions

 

Mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Super Bowl have been greening in some way, shape or form for more than a decade. Waste reduction, LEED (or BREEAM or CASBEE) certification, measuring carbon footprint, and more. I got to thinking it would be interesting to talk to one of the companies that does the carbon footprint accounting — to understand how it works, what gets measured, what decisions, if any, are made to reduce emissions. So we were very happy to chat with Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman of South Pole, a very interesting company that is one part sustainability consulting firm and one part emissions reduction project developer. There may be even more parts but this is good enough for now.

 

Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman have very cool job titles and even cooler missions at South Pole.

Geneva, Switzerland-based Natalia’s is Sales Director, Carbon and Renewables. Sounds like a good fit for someone who describes her career as being “devoted to using economic incentives to solve the climate crisis.” With South Pole since 2014, Natalia helps corporations understand that it is good business to measure and reduce carbon emissions. She helps corporations talk the sustainability talk and walk the sustainability walk.

 

Natalia Gorina 1

Natalia Gorina, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Franka wants to “devote my life to improving the world by helping companies and people to take action against climate change.” Prior to coming to South Pole, Franka worked in finance, trying to disrupt it from the inside out.

 

Franka Bosman

Franka Bosman, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Natalia and Franka sure seem like they are in the right place.

 

SOUTH POLE: MATCHMAKING CARBON REDUCTION PROJECTS WITH CORPORATE FUNDERS

South Pole was founded in 2006 as a climate change fighting/sustainable business spinoff from ETH, a technical university in Switzerland. The company has since grown to over 200 employees with 16 offices around the world, with several located in Latin America, China and the Indian sub-continent where many emissions reductions projects are located.

Those employees 1) help corporate clients source and develop emissions reductions and renewable energy development projects, 2) consult on sustainability strategy for corporations and, 3) manage their own carbon emissions projects that generate carbon credits that they then try sell to corporations.

“We are more than emissions reduction credit providers,” explained Natalia. “We come in at an earlier stage than most sustainability consulting firms by investing our own funds to cover carbon certification costs and leading projects through the entire certification cycle. We serve as the project developer for renewable energy companies and local organizations that produce and distribute water filtration systems and cook stoves, for example.”

“South Pole is a matchmaker of sorts,” added Franka. “We currently have over 500 emissions projects underway that we match with corporate funders. Then we measure results in a way that is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: biodiversity gains, jobs created, and more.”

 

HANDLING FAN ENGAGEMENT FOR UEFA 2016 CHAMPIONSHIP

South Pole has partnered with UEFA, the governing body of European soccer/football, since 2012. They started by calculating the greenhouse gas emissions generated from flights taken by UEFA referees and staff and offering Gold Standard certified carbon credits to offset those emissions. “We make it easy for them,” offered Natalia. “We give them a choice of projects and they choose one per year.”

Given that UEFA governs European soccer and manages Euro Championships, it makes sense that they would want to invest in European projects. Thing is, there aren’t that many to choose from because the Kyoto Protocol mandated that the lions’ share of emissions reductions projects be in the developing world. “So we have to work outside the box a bit,” advised Natalia. “Turkey, a UEFA member, has some projects. For example, last year UEFA supported the Gold Standard Cakirlar Hydro Project. And then we offer projects from countries that have a connection to a UEFA country.  For example, UEFA chose to support the Prony Windfarm project because it is located in New Caledonia, a French territory overseas. The wind turbines installed there are very innovative because they tilt downward during hurricanes which leads to significant reductions in damage.”

 

Prony Windfarm Vergnet

Prony wind farm in New Caledonia (Photo credit: Vergnet)

 

South Pole and UEFA ramped up their sustainability efforts at Euro 2016, the quadrennial continent-wide tournament by engaging fans. Fans traveling to the month-long soccer-fest held throughout France had the opportunity to offset their travel via an easy-to-use carbon calculator. “We aimed to make it fun for fans to take environmental action,” said Natalia. “Committing to measure and offset their travel entered fans into a sweepstakes; the grand prize offered a ticket to the final game.”

Fan participation levels were not as high as envisioned. Natalia attributes this to the complexity of the entry process: “Fans had to go through several steps to compensate for their emissions. It needs to be a super easy, one click process. Or, even better, have the offsetting option as the default position in the ticket purchasing process, from which fans can opt-out if they don’t want to participate.” South Pole will have the opportunity to collaborate with UEFA further on environmental issues, including hopefully improving upon fan engagement participation, with a four-year extension of its contract. That will take it through Euro 2020, the first tournament to be played across the continent rather than in one or two countries.

 

MEASURING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS FOR 2018 FIFA WORLD CUPTM IN RUSSIA

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, hired South Pole to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia.

The company issued a report that offered a broad estimate of GHG emissions for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, from the preparation phase — per Natalia: “The organizers committed to ‘green certification’ for all 12 venues; as of now, at least 3 have achieved BREEAM^ certification” — through the World Cup itself. They projected Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources), Scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy), and Scope 3 (value/supply chain emissions). Fan travel to and from Russia, the by far the largest GHG emissions component, falls within Scope 3. According to Natalia, “More than two thirds of all GHG emissions associated with 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia are linked to international air travel of attendees.”

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Not surprisingly, it says here, the organizers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup feel fan travel to get to and from Russia is not under its control and are focusing on Scopes 1 and 2. But wouldn’t emissions from travel within a country as vast as Russia be massive? Not so, said Natalia: “Emissions from travel within Russia will be much lower, in large part because the venues are concentrated in the European, west-of-the-Ural-Mountains section of the country.”

Will South Pole do an accounting of actual 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia emissions to see how they compare to the estimate? “Our assignment was just to do the estimate,” reported Natalia.

If South Pole is engaged by FIFA and the organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, here’s hoping they get to report on the actual GHG emissions, and not just estimate them. Lord knows, a World Cup in Qatarian summer will be a massive environmental challenge (and that’s putting it mildly).

 

HELPING FIA MEMBERS OFFSET EMISSIONS FROM MOTOR SPORTS

Turning to motor sports, South Pole is helping members of FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), the governing body for Formula 1, auto rallies, Formula E and more, to achieve carbon neutrality.

Similar to UEFA, South Pole is finding offset projects for FIA members to support in the areas where races take place. “Rally Australia, a long-distance auto race in Coff’s Harbour off the country’s east coast, wanted projects that benefitted wildlife and the environment in Australia,” asserted Franka. “We helped them offset unavoidable emissions by connecting them with a project that protects the habitats of the Tasmanian Devil.”

Franka also notes that, “While European projects would be desirable for sports events taking place in Europe because of their proximity, most are happy to support programs in the developing world. One, because that’s where the need is the greatest and, two, there’s a sexiness to them given the huge positive impact these projects have for local people and the environment.”

 

WHAT’S NEXT? TELLING THE STORY TO FANS MORE CONSISTENTLY

GreenSportsBlog readers certainly know that my biggest pet peeve about the sports-greening world is that the fantastic stories about its greatest advances are not being told to fans and other stakeholders with a loud enough voice. Natalia and Franka agree.

What will change this dynamic? Franka believes the impetus will come from sponsors: “Organizers of greener sports events fear that if they tout how sustainable they are, they will be criticized for what they don’t do. But their sponsors are urging them to talk about what they are doing — commitments to renewables, recycling and to offset programs that preserve at-risk species, or help people in the developing world to source clean water.”

Since sponsor dollars are almost as vital as clean water to sports teams and leagues, Franka may be on to something.

Watch this space. And keep your eyes on South Pole.

 

^ BREEAM is a British version of LEED

 


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