What does Trump's Paris pull-out mean for green sports?

football climate change
ShutterstockPete Saloutos
Although many sports teams are committing to in-stadium sustainability, policy advocacy around climate change is less common.

The landmark Paris Climate Agreement was signed in December 2015 by 195 countries, including the United States.

The agreement, per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, links the signatories "into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so."

Now we can add the U.S. to the short list of countries rejecting the agreement, although the country also was one of the prime architects of the deal.

GreenSportsBlog reached out to contact Allen Hershkowitz, founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI) and founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance, to get his reaction.

GreenSportsBlog: What is your reaction to President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement?

Allen Hershkowitz: Honestly, my first reaction is more personal than analytical. I am physically nauseous. This is a very bad decision. It undermines so much good work, such incredibly important work. It is indisputably one of the worst environmental decisions ever made by any president in the history of the United States. It makes no sense.

There is no basis for this decision in science. There is no basis for this decision economically. And it will weaken the United States internationally in so many ways. This is why diverse leaders from the pope to the CEO of Exxon-Mobil to leaders throughout the entire EU and 300 leading corporations have communicated to the president that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would be a mistake.

It appears the President of the United States is accommodating a fringe group of climate-denying conspiracy theorists.

GSB: So you are in France, where you just attended the first Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI) Congress. What do leaders of European sports federations, teams, governing bodies, businesses think of this move? Will they expect to hear from their U.S. sports industry counterparts?

Hershkowitz: On May 23, representatives from 30 countries and six continents — Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America — joined together at the Sport and Sustainability International [SandSI] Congress in Paris to focus on the threat that climate change poses to sport and the communities in which they are played. The SandSI Congress was convened to help ensure a global shift away from fossil fuels. It reflected an unprecedented unified expression of support by the international sports industry for the Paris Agreement and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I know that they will feel bewilderment, confusion and, in many cases, anger. I would like to be able to say the North American sports leagues are outraged by this awful decision, and working with many of them as I do, I am sure that will be the case. I assume that sports organizations in the United States that have prominent and authentic sustainability programs will express serious concern about this action.

GSB: Do you think the NHL, NBA and other U.S. sports leagues will go public with their opposition to President Trump’s decision — assuming, that is, they are opposed to it?

Hershkowitz: I have had the privilege to get to work on environmental issues with all the professional sports leagues in the United States, and scores of teams and venues. Given that climate change is the greatest existential threat to the common future of human civilization, and given that these leagues and their teams have touted their authentic commitment to responsible environmental stewardship for a decade, I don’t expect that they will remain silent about this terrible event. One way or another, I expect them to make their voices heard on this.

That doesn’t mean that leagues are going to interrupt regularly scheduled broadcasts for a commissioner’s press conference on the issue; that would surely be unreasonable to expect. But I do expect they will be communicating in some public way with their member organizations, their business partners and their fans that they will continue to advance the goals of the Paris Agreement with or without the U.S. as a formal signatory.

Remember, it is important to note that the majority of the implementation actions of the Paris Agreement will come from non-state actors, from companies and NGOs, not government. This is why the sports industry committing its economic and cultural influence to its implementation regardless of this decision is so urgent.

GSB: But governments will play an important and crucial role.

Hershkowitz: Absolutely. With the massive cultural and economic influence of the sports industry, it is incumbent upon them — and never more important — to let the world know that this decision is a mistake and that they will continue to advance its agenda.

GSB: Something tells me teams might not speak out as forcefully on this, on climate, as they would on a different issue. They may use the "we don’t do politics" card.

Hershkowitz: This is not about politics. This may be political for President Trump; there is no other way to explain such an indefensible decision. But for most honest people, this about the survival of human civilization as we know it.

It is about the survival of ecosystems, a chemically stable atmosphere, species preservation, clean water to drink and about limiting the number of climate refugees. It is about economic progress and international cooperation and so much more. So, it’s from that apolitical lens that I speak and that I would urge the leagues to do the same.

GSB: Let’s say some of the leagues and perhaps individual teams do step up and speak out. How should they do so?

Hershkowitz: Listen, the U.S. sports industry influences billions of dollars of investments. It is as culturally influential a platform as exists in the U.S. Over 70 percent of Americans oppose this decision, so they don’t need to be shy.

They can use every platform — social media, digital media, traditional media, athlete role models — to communicate that climate change matters and that they support implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement. I’m not saying they should interrupt the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup Finals. But they do need to speak up.

GSB: You know who I would like to talk to? Green sports leaders who supported candidate Trump, like Brian France, the CEO of NASCAR, or Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.

Hershkowitz: I’m not going there in terms of calling anyone out. No one has a monopoly on virtue, but what I will say is that no one in a position of influence should remain silent.

We at SandSI — our member governing bodies from around the world, and also individuals who now can become members — are going to do our part. Really, we are set up to provide the sports world with a platform to advocate for climate actions that are in line with the Paris Agreement. The Agreement advocates for carbon measurement and reductions, both for the teams and for their supply chains.

Our next Congress will be in Zurich in October, but in the meantime we are not helpless. The sports world — including, I hope, all the North American leagues — will come together through SandSI and other organizational efforts. Our focus will be on initiatives that align us with the Paris Agreement and U.N. SDGs. And we will underscore the need for all U.S. sports organizations to push back in support of remaining in the Paris Agreement.

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