The fashion industry has long been known as one of the highest polluting industries, with sourcing of textiles, production, distribution, and eventual waste all combining to contribute to the carbon footprint. Whilst the myth that the fashion industry was the second highest polluting the industry has been busted, it is still clear that it is one of the worst. In a 2020 report from the Global Fashion Agenda, it was found that the emissions produced from the fashion industry are on course to rise by an estimated 2.7 billion tonnes a year by 2030 if current practices remain. With the current trajectory emissions from fashion would be double the maximum level required to be in line with the Paris Agreement’s plan to keep global warming to 1.5°C. Due to this, it is even more important that fashion both took itself seriously and was taken seriously at COP26.
Leading up to the pivotal climate event in Glasgow, the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter For Climate Action had been taking more steps towards reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry. The charter which was signed by 130 brands, including the likes of Burberry and Chanel is now requiring brands to commit to halving their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in a hope to remain in line with the Paris Agreement. The charter has set targets to ensure that 100% of priority materials used such as cotton, polyester, leather etc have a low climate impact by 2030, specifically looking to increase materials that are part of a circular economy and that do not cause deforestation or the destruction of ecosystems. Furthermore, the charter commits to phasing out coal from tier one and tier two suppliers by 2030, including no new coal power used by 2023. The companies who have signed the charter were given a year to produce and present plans on how they are going to achieve these targets. This was certainly a big step in the right direction from the some of the private sector leading up to COP26. However, Fashion Revolution’s 2021 Fashion Transparency Index found that only 30% of brands published timed and measurable commitments to decarbonisation, and just 25% announced targets for reducing use of textiles made from virgin fossil fuels.
Evidently then, COP26 needed to be a success in terms of setting targets and regulations in the fashion industry. The UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action announced commitments to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, to use 100% renewable energy sources across owned and operated facilities as well as committing to using environmentally friendly raw materials by 2030. These policies have been put in place in order to contribute to the aims of the Paris Agreement, stopping global warming rising past 1.5 °C. Over 50 companies joined Textile Exchange in a public request for governments to enact trade policies that encourage the use of environmentally preferred materials. However, there was frustration when it came to the regulation and policy making on the side of production, China and India did not upgrade their commitments at COP26, two of the biggest countries for sourcing and productions of textiles and clothes. There was also little representation for supply chain workers and unions at COP26. The rights of those who produce the clothes were not involved in the discussions for achieving these targets. Furthermore, there was no mention of scaling back the growth of the fashion industry. Fashion is growing by an estimated 3-4% each year when it needs to be slowing down instead. To help curb climate change caused by fashion there needs to be decreased production and consuming worldwide. There needs to be more government regulations in place and potential financial support for companies to incentivise or possibly force them to scale back.
In terms of affecting real change, COP26 could have been better for fashion. What is important now is what happens next. Firstly governments, corporations and unions all need to stick to the pledges and commitments that they have made, ensuring that they do all they can to implement more sustainable practices into the industry. Moving forward workers’ rights and factory conditions needs to be brough into the conversation, governments across the world need to do better in terms of regulating working conditions and choosing where companies can outsource labour to. It is clear that there is still a long way to go in terms of moving fashion into a sustainable place, there are steps in the right direction but ultimately things need to change quicker than they are.