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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Forest Green Rovers, Greenest Team in Sports, Earns Promotion Up England’s Football (Soccer) Ladder

In the almost four year existence of GreenSportsBlog, we have written more stories about fifth tier English soccer/football club Forest Green Rovers than any other team or topic—12 times to be exact. Why? FGR is, clearly to GSB, the Greenest Team in Sports. From rooftop solar to mowing the lawn with a solar powered “mow-bot” (I kid you not!) to the now famous vegan-only food concessions, FGR is at the cutting edge of Green-Sports. And, as of Sunday they are no longer in the fifth tier of English soccer. After beating Tranmere, 3-1, in a playoff match at London’s fabled Wembley Stadium, FGR earned promotion to the fourth tier (aka League Two), for the first time ever. This is huge, from both football and greening perspectives.

 

I am quite sure you’ve never heard of Kaiyne Woolery. But he may well be one of the most important people in Green-Sports today—and he likely has no idea about that fact.

Woolery scored two goals to lead Forest Green Rovers (FGR), aka the Greenest Team in Sports, to a 3-1 win over Tranmere Rovers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. The playoff victory earned FGR promotion from the National League (the fifth tier of English football) to League Two (fourth tier).

Kaiyne Woolery

Kaiyne Woolery celebrates one of his two goals for Forest Green Rovers in Sunday’s promotion 3-1 playoff win at London’s Wembley Stadium over Tranmere. FGR moves up to League Two, the 4th tier of English football, next season (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

You simply cannot overstate the impact of this win, abetted by Woolery’s two goals, both in terms of football and FGR’s sustainability/climate change fighting mission.

 

MOVING ON UP

From a football perspective, consider that Forest Green Rovers has been in existence since 1889 and has never made it up to the fourth tier (FYI, there are 24 tiers in English football, with over 7,000 clubs).

In most countries—but not the US and Canada—professional soccer operates a system of promotion and relegation. Clubs that finish at or near the top of a league are promoted to the league above for the following season. Teams that end up at or near the bottom get relegated to the league below. If you want more information on promotion and relegation, check out this schematic, which maps out the top nine tiers of English football, and/or click here.

 

English Football Pyramid

The English Football Pyramid. Forest Green Rovers won promotion from the 5th Level (Conference National) to the 4th Level (League Two), the highest tier it has ever achieved. (Credit: An American’s Guide to English Soccer)

 

For most of its 128 year existence, FGR rattled around a maze of English local, county and regional leagues, moving up and down over the decades, never getting above the sixth tier. In 1997-98, they made it up to the National League, the fifth tier of English soccer. While that was an accomplishment, let’s put it in its proper perspective: In baseball terms, the fifth tier is the equivalent of the low minor leagues. FGR’s quaint and sustainable home ground, The New Lawn, has a capacity of about 5,100, similar to most of its (now former) National League compatriots.

The club largely teetered between relegation and mediocrity until Dale Vince, OBE^, owner of Ecotricity, a solar and wind provider, bought the club in 2010. They started slowly but hit on an upward trajectory that led to FGR making the promotion playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They fell short both years but the third time proved to be a charm on Sunday. Before a crowd of almost 19,000 at Wembley Stadium in London, the club earned promotion to League Two with Woolery’s 11th and 44th minute goals sandwiching one from Christian Doidge in the 41st.

The honeymoon will be brief for the coaches, players and supporters, many of whom flooded The New Lawn for a celebration Monday night. FGR’s first League Two season starts in just three months (it’s a loooooong season!). Some higher caliber talent will need to be added to the core of this season’s group to make sure Forest Green Rovers stays in the fourth tier and doesn’t face relegation.

 

LEAGUE TWO: BIGGER MEGAPHONE FOR FGR’S GREENNESS

From a sustainability perspective, the implications of Woolery’s two goals and of the resulting move up the ladder are also massive.

One might not think going from the fifth to fourth tier is that big a deal. Trust me; it is.

  • Sky Sports, a British version of ESPN, broadcasts League Two matches, providing those clubs with greater media exposure, and thus a bigger audience, than their National League counterparts (without a national broadcast deal) can hope for. And that means a bigger audience for stories about FGR’s greenness, the vegan only food, the mow-bot, etc.
  • With its ascension to League Two, FGR is now, per the schematic above, part of The Football League, the organization that oversees the second, third and fourth tiers. This is important because FGR can take part in two domestic, knock-out Cup competitions, the League Cup (includes the Premier League teams) and the League Trophy (open to League One and Two clubs only) that are not open to National League clubs or below. And that means they will share in yet more additional revenue. The more famous and prestigious FA Cup is open to all levels.

 

FGR Tweet

 

  • The TV deal and the additional Cup exposure will result in a financial windfall for the club, estimated by one source to be between $1-$2 million. That is rounding error compared to the estimated $220 million influx for each of the three teams that get promoted from the second tier Championship to the Premier League. But $1-$2 million can be a big deal in the Forest Green Rovers world. It will allow Mr. Vince to attract a higher level of talent. And perhaps he will be able to move forward on some new sustainability initiatives.

 

The highest profile sustainability-focused project on Mr. Vince’s docket is FGR’s new stadium. To be clear, the world’s first all-wood stadium was in the planning phase before this season started.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Did you say all-wood stadium?”

Yes. Mr. Vince and company is planning an all (fire-retardant treated) wood stadium. In a meadow.

 

FGR Exterior

Computer-aided design of the exterior of the planned all-wood Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Mr. Vince, in a story by George Ramsey that ran Tuesday on CNN.com, said, “The importance of wood is not only that it’s naturally occurring, [but that] it has very low embodied carbon — about as low as it gets for a building material. And when you bear in mind that around three-quarters of the lifetime carbon impact of any stadium comes from its building materials, you can see why that’s so important — and it’s why our new stadium will have the lowest embodiment of carbon of any stadium.”

 

FGR Interior

Computer-aided design of the interior of the planned Forest Green Rovers stadium. (Courtesy Forest Green Rovers and Zaha Hadid Architects)

 

Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the stadium will be topped by a translucent, sloping roof to reduce shadows on the pitch (field) and aid in grass growth. Venue walkways have been fashioned to allow better ventilation and maintenance of the field.

 

The first 53 seconds of this 6:44 video from TomoNews provides details about Forest Green Rovers’ proposed all-wood stadium.

 

If all goes to plan, the stadium will be the hub of a 100-acre Eco Park. At an estimated cost of $123 million, the park will include facilities for both the community and the club: gyms, all-weather soccer pitches/fields, sports science clinics, as well as a conference center.

The project still needs approval from local authorities, so Mr. Vince asked the fans present at Monday’s promotion celebration to write to the Stroud District Council in support of the stadium—another benefit of promotion to League Two.

But don’t think that Mr. Vince is content to stop at League Two. He was quoted at the celebration by Aled Thomas in Gloucestershire Live as saying, “I think we’ll have a good first season in League Two and will be there or thereabouts for promotion – I’m aiming for League One and then the Championship.”

And the FGR owner is also aiming, with his club’s higher profile, to show his fellow owners that green is good for business and good for football.

^ OBE = Order of the British Empire, a level of chivalry in the United Kingdom.

 


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