Like it or lump it (and no one should like it), no business sector can afford to shy away from the impact of climate change. To an uncertain degree, catastrophic consequences are all but guaranteed, with eyes falling heavily on fashion to finally work towards changing their draining ways. How did the COP26 summit shift fashion’s ethical stance back into the spotlight, and what more pressure needs to be added?
Climate change presents a complex, ongoing concern for the fashion industry, which accounts for approximately 2-10% of global emissions—with next to no progress willingly made. The spotlight fell particularly on COP26 for highlighting a route to cap global warming at the 1.5C change that is seen as the maximum limit humanity can breach. While progress made at the summit was largely chalked up to be all talk and no substance, the small window to achieve the target was also abundantly clear.
For fashion, commitments were upgraded. 130 signatory brands must drastically slash their emissions in line with the 1.5C trajectory, while many more must reach net-zero by no later than 2050. Even so, these pledges don’t mean any kind of change will happen quickly. In order to achieve wanted levels of success, fashion will need an entire transformation from the ground upwards. In ten years’ time, fashion brands would likely need to run on renewable energy, completely eliminating the use of coal from all parts of the supply chain. Materials used should only make a net-positive impact, likely to recycled (or be recyclable) an endless amount of times over.
This vision of the future is paramount to achieve, and needs significant levels of investment and cross-collaboration between creative outlets and governmental bodies. As it stands, the fashion industry is on track to grow by over 50% by 2030, meaning a more mixed track record is likely. While COP26 could be easily dismissed, it marks a point where business cannot continue as it currently exists. There’s a growing business risk, with rising sea levels threatening production factories, temperatures harming crops such as cotton. Even if only for selfish reasons, fashion must wake up and smell what isn’t likely to be there for much longer. With increasing pressure from consumers, investors and regulators, the pressure to change is well and truly staying on.
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