Opinion

Why climate displacement uniquely affects football's global citizens

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Sports governing bodies around the globe have pledged their commitment to take action on climate change and football - as the world game - is uniquely impacted and has a responsibility to help our community around the world.

Late last year, FIFA made a commitment on behalf of the global game to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework along with UEFA, the NBA, the World Surf League, Tennis Australia, the IOC, and 47 other sporting organisations.

This followed from the previous commitment by FIFA to the UN Climate Change Secretariat’s Climate Neutral Now initiative in 2016 - the first global sports body to do so. 

I congratulate them and welcome this commitment. Our game can make a decisive contribution to positive change through our vast numbers, voice, influence and our international, contextual view and it would be great to see further support from our local football community for substantive, urgent and socially just change. 

Football people are naturally global citizens. 

When we see other races and cultures, nationalities, many of whom are on the front line of climate issues, we don’t see ‘others’ but our football community members - the people we play with, or against every week on the local and international field of play. 

The aim of the Sports for Climate Action Framework is ‘to gather sports organisations, teams, athletes and fans in a concerted effort to raise awareness and action to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement for climate protection’ and the second of the two, overarching objectives is: ‘using sports as a unifying tool to federate and create solidarity among global citizens for climate action.’ 

This framework calls on the sport world including federations, leagues and clubs to develop a climate action agenda by adhering to five principles:

1.    Promoting greater environmental responsibility

2.    Reducing overall climate impact

3.    Educating for climate action

4.    Promoting sustainable and responsible consumption

5.    Advocating for climate action through communication 

Tomorrow, Friday 20th September marks a global, student climate strike spanning at least 117 countries to call for urgent action towards a sustainable planet and adherence to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

This framework aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by, at a minimum keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit any increase to a 1.5 degrees Celsius elevation.

The student strike is supported by a vast array of industries, organisations and Australians and is a valuable opportunity to raise awareness for the almost two million strong football community.

Our voice, as the most numerous sport in Australia, can be immensely powerful in speaking to our fellow citizens, letting the world know that we are committed to help, and that football, as the common language of the world, acknowledges its responsibility to advocate for a sustainable planet.

The strike, which is closely followed by the UN Climate Summit on 23rd September in New York, is an opportunity for positive dialogue among all Australians as to how to adapt to global changes in a manner that supports the future economic wellbeing of the nation, employment opportunities and a just transition for every Australian affected.

Australia is perfectly placed to participate economically in the global transition to renewable energy, given our environmental advantages. 

We can both safeguard the integrity of our ecology, and provide a dividend for the next generation of Australians by taking ownership of the issue now, to the benefit of the country and the planet.

Equally, with our vast numbers and geographic breadth as a community, many of our own community such as our farmers who are doing it ever tougher with drought, our miners, our First Nations are in need of our support.

Finally, with our multicultural, global outlook, we should particularly have mind to the projected increase in displaced people from climate change affected areas.

This is something that I am really worried about and particularly the additional challenges this will pose in the local, regional and global context. 

These two issues are inextricably linked, and the diverse face of the world game is uniquely affected by both.

Many of us feel strongly about humane treatment of refugees because we play for, against and with people from every background, every time we take the field. Notwithstanding, our entire game is built on migration, many of whom were asylum seekers. It is part of our DNA.

Climate is impacting this issue to a considerable, worrying, and increasing degree.

I recently discovered that, last year alone, climate migration (which can mean both cross-border displacement or within a state) contributed to the displacement of over 17 million human beings associated with disasters in 148 countries and territories and drought displaced 764,000 people in Somalia, Afghanistan and several other countries. This is on top of the more than 60 million refugees already feeling persecution and conflict. 

No one in football needs reminding that these are our fellow competitors, our community, our global family. I will be speaking at the United Nations Conference on ’Transforming Our World’ next week in New York on, in part, the power of football (and sport) to change the world. And as the natural world changes around us, as the largest game in the world, we need to put our shoulder to the wheel.

My congratulations go to FIFA for their commitment and it would be fantastic if our Australian game did likewise.

In any event, I’ll be at the Sydney event tomorrow and will be thrilled to see any fellow football fans, players and community members lending their presence, voice and the famous passion that we bring to every cause that affects our game and, in this case, our global community.

And our planet.