Tom Baker

Climate change and ecological breakdown represent a significant threat to the future of our planet. It also threatens the existence of international sport as we know it.

Training facilities, tracks and pitches are being flooded and extreme heat is impacting athletes, their training and competitions. 

This winter, snow sport events were curtailed by a lack of snow, and half of previous host cities of the Winter Olympics will not be able to host future Games as a result of climate change, global heating and melting snow and ice. By 2050, the average athlete could experience up to 70 per cent more extremely hot days compared to 1990 (Salter Baxter, 2021).

And that’s not all. We know the fans of the future are concerned too. In the summer of 2022, YouGov found that "sports fans in the Gen Z cohort are significantly more likely to select climate change and green energy as their primary concern than fans in any other age group."

Likewise, 84 per cent of the British public are concerned about climate change and in 2021 they identified climate change and pollution as the second biggest concern for the country after COVID.

Whichever way you look at it, a lack of action in tackling climate change represents a direct threat to all of us, and every sector has a responsibility and duty to take action to protect our planet for future generations. 

Sport is no different. The stakes could not be higher and the need for concerted, collective action could not be more urgent.

A failure to take action now not only threatens the long-term relevance and appeal of high-performance sport but is also a threat to the continued existence of high-performance sport as we know it.

UK Sport has launched its Team of Tomorrow, featuring young athletes who have shared their concerns around the environment and are campaigning for positive change ©UK Sport
UK Sport has launched its Team of Tomorrow, featuring young athletes who have shared their concerns around the environment and are campaigning for positive change ©UK Sport

Collective action and commitment

But together we can make a difference, and it is this commitment to action that is at the core of UK Sport’s new Environmental Sustainability Strategy. This strategy commits us to reduce the environmental impact of all our practices, operations, and activities to achieve net zero by 2030. This follows on from our signing of the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework last year.

To help us understand what’s required to achieve this, we’ve also published a carbon footprint assessment. We will continue to report annually on our environmental impacts - increasing the range of sustainability measures that we publish and bringing further transparency and accountability to our net zero commitment.

But we also appreciate the significant role we can play and influence we have as an investor in Olympic and Paralympic sport, major events and more broadly as a leader in high-performance sport in the UK and beyond. 

Using this position, our target for the British Olympic and Paralympic sport sector and major sporting events hosted in the UK is that collectively they have a net positive impact on the environment by 2040.

That will require an entire sector working together to deliver on this goal, but we are committed, and we hope our colleagues and partners across British sport share that commitment.

We are already working with a number of national governing bodies to pilot projects which are focused on embedding environmental sustainability expertise and support within sports. As we learn from this work, we expect to be able to accelerate our collective progress in driving forward the environmental sustainability agenda in the coming years.

We’ll be providing tailored support for national governing bodies to calculate their carbon footprint and environmental impact and develop action plans. We will offer support to do this, as well as training, learning and development opportunities to share best practice - one example of this is working with Birmingham 2022 and the Carbon Literacy Project to develop a Carbon Literacy Toolkit specifically for the sport sector.

There is no time to tinker around the edges, the need for action is urgent. Therefore, we expect national governing bodies that we invest in to analyse their own environmental impacts and develop environmental sustainability action plans by the end of March 2025, aligned with the United Nations’ Sports for Climate Action Framework.

We will also make changes to procurement of goods and services to reduce negative environmental impacts across the high-performance sport ecosystem, something that is especially pressing and relevant to the hosting and delivery of major events.

The UK is already a world-leading host of major sporting events that unite and inspire the nation, and as sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue for the international sporting community, we will continue to lead the way.

Climate change is an issue that is increasingly in the public spotlight, including at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm-El-Sheikh last year ©Getty Images
Climate change is an issue that is increasingly in the public spotlight, including at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm-El-Sheikh last year ©Getty Images

Voice and platform of high-performance sport

We also recognise that sport has the power to unite people across borders and inspire positive change, bringing people together in support of common causes and to take action.

So, as well as taking action ourselves and leading and driving progress across the wider sector, we must also use the voice, influence and platform of high-performance sport to advocate for action to tackle climate change. In particular, the platform that our brilliant athletes have to inspire people to act and make a difference.

To help them do this, we’ve launched Powered by Purpose - a six-month programme to help funded athletes use their platform to inspire, facilitate and enable positive change.

It’s also been fantastic to have the support of the next generation of young British athletes in the launch of our strategy. 

Young athletes from sports including triathlon, swimming, athletics and sailing have shared their concerns around the environment and are already out there campaigning for positive change. 

They are our "Team of Tomorrow" and we all have a responsibility to ensure they have the chance to fulfil their dreams on the field of play, as well as advocate for what matters to them off it.

The message is clear. We have a collective responsibility to act and accelerate our work to ensure sport is sustainable for future generations. 

I urge leaders from across Olympic and Paralympic sport to join us and be bold and ambitious in transforming our sector.