Skip to main content
28 Oct 2021 | 10:10

What is the role of sport for development, and targeted sport and physical activity interventions, in supporting climate action and environmental sustainability? In this month’s ‘Thought Starter’ blog we consider how these parallel objectives – focused on the wellbeing of people, and the planet – can come together to help sport contribute to a more sustainable future as part of the United Nations’ Agenda 2030. 

The UN’s 26th global climate summit (better known as ‘COP26’) takes place in Glasgow in November, and the role of sport for development in supporting positive climate action is a hot topic for the 200-plus charities and organisations which constitute the Sport for Development Coalition, over-arching thousands of projects and programmes embedded in communities across the UK. 

During and after COP26, the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on how elite level sport can, and is contributing to environmental sustainability. However the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework calls for systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility across all levels of sport, and while there has been a significant focus on the action that major spectator sports, events and leagues can take to reduce overall climate impact and the importance of greening public leisure facilities (which produce between 10 to 40% of councils’ direct carbon emissions), there has been less attention paid to the contribution that can be made through sport for development and the grassroots sports community.

sport england

There is no doubt that, given the association between sedentary behaviours and carbon intensive lifestyles, the role of organisations that can help in supporting behaviour change and tackling physical activity inequalities requires further attention. At the same time, healthy eco-systems and local green spaces, which help to support active lifestyles and physical and mental wellbeing, are coming under increasing pressure as the climate crisis escalates.   

Key activities and strategies being supported across the Coalition network – such as active travel – potentially have a more substantial role to play in the policy response to the crisis. While planning decisions and associated legislation to promote active environments often focus on infrastructure investment, targeted interventions are also required to address capacity, social and cultural issues which are key barriers for many people and communities.

Sport for development organisations also play an important leadership, education and advocacy role in many communities, often supporting individuals outside formal education and civic engagement structures through place-based initiatives which are meaningful and sustainable. Can these assets across the sector be better mobilised to support climate action? And if so, then how? These are some of the key questions that the Coalition will be discussing at our Town Hall session on Friday 5th November – join the conversation.


How is your organisation using sport for development to support climate action? Here’s five examples from across the Coalition network and beyond: 

  • Coalition member EFL Trust, which oversees the work of 72 EFL Community Club Organisations, announced this month that it had signed up to the Green Code, an environmental accreditation scheme born from the work of environmentalist Dale Vince, the owner of League Two club Forest Green Rovers. The ‘EFL Green Clubs’ initiative will see the EFL fund the sustainability audits of all 72 member clubs, as well as the League itself.
  • Access Sport believes every child should have access to a safe and exciting place to cycle within 15 minutes’ walk of their front door. Instead of driving to gyms, leisure centres or football pitches, the charity promotes local offers, cycling and active travel. Andy James, National Network Manager for the ‘Making Trax’ programme, explained: “We need offers on people’s doorsteps that they don’t drive to; that build physical literacy, enthusiasm and skills to last a lifetime, and that encourage active lifestyles such cycling, scooting or skating to school, college or work.” 
  • ‘Play It Again Sport’ aims to remove financial barriers to sport and physical activity for local people in the Rhondda Valley, whilst simultaneously reducing the number of items being sent to landfill. A social enterprise based supported by the People & Work charity, it is taking the cost out of sport by selling donated sports clothing and equipment at reduced prices, and using the money raised to fund sports activities across the local area.
  • Planet Super League engages schools, children, families and football fans to live greener lifestyles, scoring goals for their football club by completing over 100 green activities, whilst competing against other clubs in a national competition, ‘CUP26’ (pictured above), which culminates just before COP26.
  • Birmingham County Football Association, which oversees grassroots football in the city, has pioneered the way football minimises the impact of its activities on the environment. In February 2021 the Association was accepted as signatories of the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Framework thus supporting the five key principles that will help reduce the carbon footprint in the game. “Not doing anything is not an option,” says the County FA. Find out more about its ‘Save Today, Play Tomorrow’ campaign. 

If you work in sport for development, share your community-based green initiatives and good practice by tagging @SFDCoalition in your tweets, or emailing examples to [email protected]. Sign the Coalition’s Charter


On Friday 5th November (1000-1130), the Coalition’s latest ‘Town Hall’ session will consider learning from across our network and the wider sector, and the relevance of the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework for sport for development.  

The session will see sector leaders from the Sport Positive Summit and Active Partnerships network share their reflections on enhancing climate action in and through sport for development. This will be followed by inputs by colleagues from across the Coalition network representing charities, foundations, VCSE organisations, networks, sporting and non-sports bodies.

Click here to register your place