IPL, an opportunity to bat for climate action

With the impact of climate change being felt across many aspects of cricket, this popular event can in turn shape attitudes towards sustainability and awareness.

Updated - April 29, 2023 02:35 pm IST

Published - April 29, 2023 12:08 am IST

The match between Gujarat Titans and Kolkata Knight Riders at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, on April 9, 2023

The match between Gujarat Titans and Kolkata Knight Riders at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, on April 9, 2023 | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

The 16th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), March to May 2023, kicked off with a coin toss by captains Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings) and Hardik Pandya (Gujarat Titans), in Ahmedabad, on March 31, and over 20 crore Indians tuned in to catch the excitement. Beyond being just a cricket tournament, the IPL is a cultural phenomenon that has captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. It has contributed significantly to India’s economy through sports tourism, employment generation, and infrastructure development. The fact is that the IPL is one of India’s most significant cultural and economic events. But beyond the excitement and spectacle of the sport, an event as big as the IPL also has a significant environmental footprint. As we know, India has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2070, and has also committed to reducing the emissions Intensity of its GDP by 45% by 2030. Given this context, an examination of the environmental impact of India’s biggest summer festival and an exploration of ways to make it more sustainable are ideal.

Recent years have seen growing recognition of the impact of sports on climate change and vice-versa. Although international efforts have been made to address the environmental impact of large-scale sports events, including the International Olympic Committee’s mandatory commitment to climate action for candidate cities and the F1’s commitment to switch to 100% sustainable fuel by 2026, the question whether enough is being done remains.

What gets measured, gets managed

Specifically, for the IPL, studies estimate that a single match produces emissions in the range of 10,000 tCO2e to 14,000 tCO2e (or tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent). Over a season, this figure can reach up to 750k tCO2e to 900k tCO2e. To contextualise these emissions, it would take tropical forests the size of Singapore over a whole year to absorb these emissions.

In 2018, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) signed an agreement to implement the concept of ‘zero waste’ or ‘green protocol’ to reduce wastage from cricket stadiums. This is a step in the right direction. But a deeper dive and a more quantitative examination of efforts to make the IPL more sustainable was needed.

Stadiums and facilities might often be perceived as one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. However, a comprehensive emissions assessment shows a different story. The emissions generated by sports venues only account for about 5% of the total, whereas digital viewership during events such as the IPL contribute to more than three-fourths to the total emissions footprint. In addition, data centres are the secondmost significant contributor to emissions, something that might often go unnoticed. Spectator travel, luxury accommodation, and backup generators round up the list of top five emitters.

Large-scale sporting events such as the IPL have a complex and multifaceted impact on the environment, and the lack of reliable data on carbon emissions hinders the ability to plan and execute effective policies.

Adopting climate tech and leveraging existing tech advancements are crucial in quickly and accurately measuring emissions from various sources. This data can be used to set targets, track progress, and select cost-effective alternatives.

Simple changes such as replacing LCD screens in our homes with energy-efficient LED displays can reduce the emission from each TV screen by 35%-40%, resulting in as much as a 20% reduction in the overall carbon footprint of such highly televised sports tournaments. A transition to renewable energy sources for the data centres and data streaming infrastructure can further reduce the IPL’s carbon emissions by over 10%. Further, the incentivisation and use of public transport to and from stadiums can help reduce spectator travel emissions by as much as 85%.

One of the most pressing challenges on the path to achieving a Net Zero society is the urgent need for a rapid transition to more sustainable alternatives. The current status of global temperatures underscores the importance of raising awareness and increasing the speed of this transition. Global temperatures are already over 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, and India has experienced 11 of the 15 warmest years (2007-2021). In February 2023, India experienced its hottest February since record keeping began in 1901, with the India Meteorological Department attributing the record heat to global warming.

The impact of climate change is being felt across multiple aspects of cricket. Changing weather patterns are affecting players, spectators, and ground conditions. For example, a 2019 report by the Marylebone Cricket Club’s World Cricket committee found that climate change is altering the sport’s landscape, impacting the length of the cricket season, and disrupting the playability of pitches. Furthermore, the increasing intensity of heatwaves and worsening air quality in India have raised concerns for player safety during some of the matches. This is a matter that needs urgent attention as the cricketing calendar has grown ever busier in recent years, with the IPL, the most lucrative cricket league in the world, playing a significant role.

As a voice in climate action

The IPL has a unique opportunity to take a lead role in promoting climate action by prioritising sustainability. The organisation’s broad social platform can influence attitudes towards sustainability and reach out to people from all backgrounds and areas. By promoting education and awareness around environmental issues, the IPL can encourage a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

Climate change is arguably humankind’s fight for survival on earth; we are nearing, if not already at tipping point, where it is almost now or never. Just like a great match, achieving a Net Zero society requires team effort, with each sector of the economy playing a crucial role. To tackle climate change effectively, it is necessary to adopt a strong multisectoral approach. An event as big as the IPL is an opportunity to build awareness about the Net Zero transition, expanding on existing efforts and accelerating the journey to Net Zero.

Ankit Jain is Co-founder and CEO at StepChange. Pranav Suresh is Engagement Manager at StepChange

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