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Olympic movement at the heart of the environmental debate

Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Doha-9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment

His Highness, the Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Head of the State of Qatar;

Dr Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee;

His Highness Sheikh Tamin Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Heir Apparent and President of the National Olympic Committee of Qatar;

Pal Schmitt, President of Hungary, IOC Sport and the Environment Commission;

His Excellency Sheikh Saoud Bin Abdulraham Al-Thani, Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee of Qatar and President of the Gulf Cooperation Council;

Abdallah Bin Aboud Al-Mahdadi, Minister of the Environment of Qatar;

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, President of the Olympic Council of Asia

and Winfried Lemke, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here in Doha for this, the 9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment.

I have just come from Brazil where the country is in many ways preoccupied with three major events.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 or Rio+20; the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

Three major events; three enormous opportunities to catalyze innovation and sustainable development; three occasions that dovetail, resonate and echo to our agenda and meeting here in Qatar.

It was the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil that gave birth to the direction and dynamism of contemporary sustainable development.

Rio 1992 saw the establishment of several of the major global treaties that have been fundamental to much of UNEP's work and underpinned the sport and environment movement as well.

The UN climate change convention; the convention of biodiversity and the convention on desertification.

It was also a moment in time that inspired the amendment of the Olympic Charter to include the environment as the third pillar of Olympism.

In short it was the trigger, the tape that we all broke through towards the prize of bringing mass sporting and spectator events into the quest for sustainable development.

When you look back over the intervening years since the Earth Summit, we see a mixed score card in terms of the ability of nation states to meet the needs and aspirations of a world with now seven billion

Extraordinary achievements have been made –the Earth's protective shield, the ozone layer, is on the road to recovery as a result of the phasing –out of the chemicals linked with the damage.

We have emissions trading and smart mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol of the climate treaty and the intensity with which we use energy has declined.

And we have cemented the role of the environment in the Olympics as a vehicle for innovation and as a legacy for host cities from Sydney to Torino and in 2008 Beijing.

Other major sporting events have also come on board, including the FIFA World Cup as a result of Germany's determination in 2006 to realize a Green Goal which turn became an important theme in South Africa in 2010.

Other areas of the sporting world have also begun embracing these aspirations including sporting goods makers alongside other sporting events such as power boats racing.

Yet despite all these gains, science demonstrates that they are in many ways being overwhelmed by the scale and magnitude of environmental change.

Humanity's consumption of natural resources, allied to the inefficiencies in the way we produce goods and services, are pushing our footprint into the red and driving the Earth's life support systems towards potentially irreversible tipping points.

We are as a species, and as communities and economies, still on a fundamentally unsustainable path.

This is the reality and the awareness that is underpinning next June's Rio+20 summit.

But there is another reality, which if only we can accelerate and scale-up, offers a fundamentally different development path.

UNEP has articulated this under the theme of the Green Economy, which along with sustainable development and poverty eradication, is one of the two key themes of Rio+20 next year.

The premise and analysis this work is illuminating is that there are countless examples across the globe of where a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient economy is underway.

And with the right public policies, an investment equivalent of two per cent of global GDP could grow the global economy, generate jobs, address social inequalities but in a way that does not push humanity's footprint beyond planetary boundaries.

Crucial to achieving this will be the ambition of governments.

But also vital will be public support and awareness of not only the need for change but the enthusiasm to pressure leaders and companies to support transformational action alongside personal actions.

Sport has the power to enlist global public support—a point that has not been lost on the Brazilian hosts of Rio+20 who have recognized the virtue in linking this UN conference with the two major sporting events they are also hosting.

I am delighted to announce that following my visit last week, UNEP will be signing a Memorandum of Cooperation with the relevant Brazilian authorities in order to provide assistance and support to both the FIFA World Cup 2014 and the Olympics in Brazil in 2016.

We are now studying how to strengthen our presence and our office capacity in Brazil in order to support the country in the run up to next year's Rio+20 meeting which in turn can also assist in the preparations for these two major sporting events.

Your Excellency; distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

If Rio+20 is to achieve a transformational outcome in terms of setting the course that will fulfill the promises of the Earth Summit two decades before, then it cannot be just a government affair.

Civil society, academia and the private sector need to contribute their experience, wisdom and solutions towards achieving truly sustainable development.

I would urge all delegates here to reflect and to consider what they can contribute to ensuring 2012 is a success—it is in all our interests.

UNEP's Green Economy report addresses the pathways towards an evolutionary development path at the meta level.

Several countries are now actively engaged in how a global analysis can be transformed into national actions towards a low carbon, resource efficient future.

Environment in sport may also like to reflect in this direction too.

Together we have achieved a great deal in bringing sustainability to big, global sporting events—and the signals from Brazil is that the torch will be passed on to Rio and the FIFA host cities there.

But the time may now be ripe to consider how we take our collective expertise, experience and enthusiasm down to the national level too and in a way that make sport a catalyst for change and the realization of a Green Economy not only every four years, but every year, month and day.

How do we enlist national Olympic associations, covering the full suite of sporting activities, into our sustainability movement in support of Rio+20 and beyond.

Football leagues and cup competitions are taking place every week in every country of the world.

Can a world conference like this find pathways to bring what sport and environment is achieving on the global stage, into the ethos of local football clubs and competitions and the companies that are involved.

And this is just Olympic-linked sport and football: what about the other sporting activities and pastimes that millions upon millions are engaged in—where do we find the points of engagement at the national and local level in contribution of the wider sustainability goals?

The impact could be profound—the multi-billion procurement policies of the Olympics for example have the potential to shift markets in areas ranging from the construction sector to those involved in catering and sporting goods.

Harnessing the procurement potential of the sports industry globally and daily could catalyze even more far reaching change.

Young people are perhaps more aware today of the threats but perhaps also the opportunities facing the world—can we do more to empower sporting heroes to embrace the environmental dimension of sport that together we have fostered in the mega sporting arenas.

How can the way sports influences consumer choices and the psychology of consumerism, be enlisted in the race for sustainable lifestyles?

How can we influence owners of stadia nationally to mirror the achievements in terms of waste management to renewable energy of those organizing the big tournaments and games?

I think the story of incorporating sustainability into sports has been one of the inspirational evolutions of the past two decades.

We have not stood still.

For example for the FIFA World Cup 2010, visitors had the chance to reflect on sustainable tourism through the Green Passport campaign.

Close to a dozen participating national teams offset their carbon footprint via projects ranging from solar cooking to wind energy projects.

The experience UNEP has gained by working with sporting partners assisted in the greening of the Shanghai Expo also in 2010.

So that evolution and spreading of the knowledge and ideas incubated through sport and the environment on the global stage, is happening in more and more dimensions and settings.

In support for Rio+20 and beyond perhaps the moment has come to see how we evolve and accelerate that engagement faster and further in support of sustainable development for the coming 20 years.

Thank you




Further Resources

9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment

UNEP Sport and the Environment website


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