The recovery from the pandemic also gives us a chance to clean our air.
More than 300 British Olympians and Paralympians have called on the Government to take urgent action on climate change in the wake of Covid-19.
Paula Radcliffe, Sir Mo Farah and Sir Steve Redgrave are among the Olympic champions who have put their names to a letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging a “truly green approach” to the recovery from the pandemic.
The letter was written by GB rowing team member and environmental lawyer Melissa Wilson, on behalf of Champions for Earth, a group of athletes aiming to use the power of sport to tackle the climate and nature crises.
It has garnered scores of signatures from Olympians and Paralympians, including Rebecca Adlington, Tessa Sanderson and Hannah Cockroft, who have joined the call to forge a healthy, safe Earth for all.
The letter says that, were it not for Covid-19, the world’s hearts and minds would have been captured by the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, events that have “passing on legacy for the future” as part of their mission.
But the years when that legacy will unfold “are under acute threat from climate change”, the letter says.
With the UK holding the presidencies of key UN “Cop26” climate talks and the G7 group of leading nations next year, “the UK has a golden opportunity to show international leadership on the most important issue facing humankind”.
“We can sit timidly in the pack, pretending that we have no role to play in the unfolding race.
“Or, like the athletes we would have watched this summer, we can race to win,” the letter to the PM urges.
It also highlights the economic benefits of a green recovery and the ability, shown by the pandemic, of society to make huge alterations from business as usual.
Ms Wilson said she decided to write the letter because the recovery from Covid-19 presented a huge opportunity for change.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to safeguard the environment for the younger generations.
“The recovery from the pandemic also gives us a chance to clean our air, particularly to benefit our society’s younger people whose lungs suffer the most from air pollution,” she said.
Five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve said that “as an athlete you need a healthy environment to perform at the highest level”.
“It’s vital Britain’s kids grow up with clean air, access to green spaces and healthy diets.
“The UK has always been a leader, and we need the country to lead on delivering a safe environment to nurture stars of the future,” he said.
Double Olympic champion Ms Adlington warned that the world’s waters and marine environments were increasingly being polluted and exploited.
And she said: “Just as in 2012, UK leadership can deliver a successful global UN climate summit that can lay a legacy for future generations. This isn’t going away and we need to act now to ensure the future.”
Ms Radcliffe said there was no safe level of air pollution and that everyone had to do more – and the Government had to take the lead.
“The Cop26 summit in 2021 will be the UK’s environment Olympics – but it’s a marathon not a sprint, and the Government needs to ensure it’s prepared and has the right policies in place to ensure the UK is a climate leader,” she urged.
And triathlete Alistair Brownlee said he had been training for intense heat at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and knew how hard it was to perform in blistering conditions.
“I love to compete, but I also want my sport to be safe for generations to come – that’s why I want the Government to take a lead on tackling climate change,” he said.
London 2012 Olympic champion canoeist Etienne Stott, who founded Champions for Earth with world championship rower Dave Hampton, warned that the dependence on fossil fuels was driving global warming and destroying the planet.
“As fires rage in the Amazon and the Arctic, we have to take this moment to change course. Sport can’t ignore this,” he said.
Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.