The Spin | Cricket and the climate crisis: how are the game’s leading nations coping?

The men’s T20 World Cup and Cop26 drew to a close at about the same time. Australia flew home victorious after an eight-wicket thrashing of New Zealand in the final in Dubai, a tournament nicely summed up by our man in the desert Simon Burnton; delegates left Glasgow less triumphant. Here we assess how those Super 12 countries are coping in the climate emergency.

Afghanistan The average Afghan produces only 0.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, but the country is on the forefront of the climate crisis. Temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average, and with horrible inevitability the population is hit by extreme weather event after extreme weather event – droughts, especially in northern Afghanistan, floods, and avalanches. Springs are becoming drier, autumns wetter. Crop loss caused by drought means that the country is missing 40% of the wheat it needs this year and the United Nations reported that 22m Afghans will suffer from “acute food insecurity” this winter. The Taliban takeover has meant a loss of international aid. Afghanistan had no official seat at Cop26.

Australia Under the current government, Australia is seen as a climate dissident, the biggest exporter of fossil gas in the world and the second biggest of thermal coal, with a foot on the brake of the march to net zero. And yet, due to its geography, it is vulnerable to increasing temperatures, day and night. In 2019 there were 43 “extremely warm days,” triple the number before 2000, this in term increases the length of the bush fire season. The horrendous fires of 2019-20 affected cricket with youth and Big Bash matches postponed, and players complaining of toxic air over the SCG. Rising sea temperatures are threatening the Great Barrier Reef while reduced rainfall threatens crops and river flow.

Bangladesh Densely populated and low-lying, Bangladesh was ranked the seventh most climate-vulnerable country between 2000 and 2019 by the Global Climate Risk Index. Nearly 170m people live on the delta of two of the world’s biggest rivers, the Ganges and Brahmaputra. Rising sea levels increase salinisation, polluting local wells and reducing supplies of drinking water, as well as damaging crops and soil. It is estimated that by 2050 one in seven Bangladeshis will have been displaced because of rising sea levels.

England and Scotland The UK has become 0.9 degrees warmer and six per cent wetter over the last 30 years. All of the top 10 hottest years have been since 2002 and infrastructure struggles once the temperature rises, with roads melting, rail lines buckling – twice, in recent years, Lord’s has allowed members to remove their jackets because of the heat. Increased flooding has cost cricket dearly both in terms of finance – the storms of December 2015 caused more than £3.5m worth of damage across 57 cricket clubs – and in terms of games postponed and cancelled, both in the recreational and professional game.

India Cricket’s big beast is on the frontline of the climate crisis, hit by erratic monsoons – with less rain but at a higher intensity – flooding, landslides and heatwaves. This summer, the Lancet Planetary Health journal estimated that there are 740,000 excess deaths a year in India due to extreme temperatures related to climate change. Nor is cricket immune: pollution stopped play in the 2017 Delhi Test between India and Sri Lanka when players were sick on the pitch and IPL matches have been switched because of lack of water.

Sri Lanka’s players, wearing anti-pollution masks, speak to each other as the Delhi Test with India was briefly stopped in December 2017 due to the poor air condition.
Sri Lanka’s players, wearing anti-pollution masks, speak to each other as the Delhi Test with India was briefly stopped in December 2017 due to the poor air condition. Photograph: Altaf Qadri/AP

Namibia An extremely climate-vulnerable country, one of the driest south of the Sahara desert. Rainfall is increasingly unpredictable, with knock-on effects for agriculture and livestock particularly for the poorest people. Higher temperatures and extreme heat are expected to increase evaporation and therefore aridity, as well as the incidence of disease, while rising sea levels will affect numbers of fish. Even if temperature increases globally were able to be kept to 1.5 degrees over the pre-industrial baseline, Namibia’s temperature is projected to increase by two degrees.

New Zealand The majority of New Zealanders live on the coast and many on flood plains. Rising sea levels and increases in extreme rainfall will increase the risk of flooding and the potential for salt water to enter the freshwater systems. Of New Zealand’s 50,000 species, half are found nowhere else in the world and changing climate conditions puts them increasingly at risk, with 70 native plants likely to be at risk of extinction by 2100. Changing ocean chemistry is already affecting marine life.

Pakistan Ranked the eighth most climate-vulnerable country between 2000 and 2019, Pakistan is threatened in all directions: from extreme heat, from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, from more intense monsoons – nine inches of rain fell in a day in Karachi last August. Deforestation – from 33% of the country in 1947 to 4% today – mostly driven by illegal logging, has left a country with little protection against flooding and storms.

South Africa The Cape Town drought of 2015-18 saw the temporary cancellation of club and school cricket as the population’s water was rationed and the country counted down to Day Zero. A year later the dams were 80% full, but the threat of water shortage hangs heavy over a country where temperatures are increasing and rainfall is decreasing.

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Sri Lanka Nearly half of Sri Lanka’s population live in low-lying costal areas, making them extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. The rise in the number of days of extreme heat threatens particularly the poor, and those labourers working without protection from the sun. Increasing temperatures are likely to affect rice yields and add to food insecurity.

West Indies The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Motley QC, has been lauded for the most powerful speech at Cop26. “The pandemic has shown us that national solutions to global problems do not work,” she told the delegates. “What must we say to our people living on the front line in the Caribbean, in Africa, in Latin America, in the Pacific, when both ambition and regrettably some of the needed faces are not present? What excuse should we give for failure? In the words of that Caribbean icon Eddy Grant, will they mourn us on the front line?”

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