Fashioning ‘climate positive’ change in textiles and apparel

Following the recent clarion call from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Laila Petrie, WWF’s Textiles & Cotton Lead, welcomes the launch of an exciting new approach to climate change mitigation in the textiles and apparel sector — and calls for even greater ambition

© WWF-US / Keith Arnold

1.5°C wake-up call

This month’s IPCC special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C starkly underlines the need for decisive action on climate change. Impacts previously expected through a 2°C increase are likely to manifest from a 1.5℃ change or less.

And meeting a 1.5°C pathway will require unprecedented transformation in all sectors in little over a decade. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report ‘an ear-splitting wake-up call to the world’ and the Science Based Targets Initiative has announced that from early 2019 it will invite companies to set GHG reduction targets in line with a 1.5°C scenario.

It’s timely then, that at this week’s Textile Exchange 2018 Sustainability Conference in Milan, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will confirm that in December it will launch a platform and a charter for textiles sector climate action.

Accelerating sectoral change

In line with the conference theme, ‘united in action: accelerating sustainability in textiles and fashion’, the charter calls on brands, suppliers and other actors to commit to at least a 30% reduction in GHG emissions across the value chain by 2030, to support development of a sector decarbonisation pathway that helps the industry set science-based targets (SBTs), and to collaborate on joint solutions to key climate challenges.

This is welcome and significant.

Until now, not only has the textiles sector lacked overarching goals or a mechanism for collaboration, but current analysis also puts its impacts anywhere between 2% and 10% of global GHG emissions — and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation claims under a 2°C pathway this could reach 26% by 2050.

If the sector is truly to accelerate sustainability, an ambitious pathway that supports SBTs across all parts of the value chain in line with a 1.5°C scenario is essential.

© Asim Hafeez / WWF-UK

Power of collaboration

For textiles and apparel brands, GHG emissions are overwhelmingly generated within raw material production, supply chain processing and assembly, and in customer product care and end of life disposal.

Inherently outside the direct control of any single company, these ‘Scope 3’ impacts mean brands need to collaborate with each other as well as suppliers, governments, financial organisations and consumers to really tackle their climate impacts.

The good news is that the sector already has a proven track record in working together.

Over a decade ago, collaboration between NGOs and brands like IKEA, H&M and M&S helped establish the Better Cotton Initiative and develop sustainable cotton practices in key markets such as India and Pakistan.

And today, WWF and IKEA’s ongoing work with in-country partners is pushing the boundaries of what sustainability means for cotton, and supporting decision-makers in the two countries to adopt and integrate improved practices into agricultural programmes and policies.

Similarly, exciting and ambitious commitments like the one from H&M to become climate positive across its whole value chain by 2040 can only be realised through collaboration.

And the recently established Responsible Leather Round Table (RLRT) — set to address impacts along the leather value chain, including climate change and deforestation — will rely on harnessing joint effort across the textiles and beef sectors.

© James Morgan / WWF — FSC certified plantations, a partnership between WWF & IKEA

Going further together, and faster

Only through collective action and an inclusive approach that draws on the strengths of many different actors can we hope to manage resources sustainably and equitably, and deliver on the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) blueprint for a sustainable world.

The UNFCCC charter marks the beginning of a cohesive global sector-wide approach to climate change mitigation — a milestone that should be celebrated. But we need to make sure we continue pushing towards a climate-neutral or even climate-positive future for textiles and apparel.

The effects and costs of climate change, especially related to sector-critical resources like water — droughts, floods and water pollution cost business $14 billion in 2016 — make meaningful action for a 1.5°C pathway a business-critical issue for brands and producers.

And securing a 1.5°C future requires increased ambition, not only committing to but going beyond the proposed 30% GHG emissions reduction target, towards a fully science-based decarbonisation approach for the textiles and apparel sector.

Laila Petrie joins Anne Gillespie, Director of Industry Integrity, Textile Exchange, and Birgit Altmann, Associate Economic Affairs Officer, UN Economic Commission for Europe, to explore the role the textiles sector can play in driving reduced impacts on climate and forests in Fashion, Forests, Collaboration and Climate Change at 3:30 pm on October 24th.

© Global Warming Images / WWF

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