7 Key Takeaways for Fashion from COP26

By Constance Beswick

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Over the last two weeks thousands of people including world leaders, negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens convened in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

In the wake of the latest IPCC Report, indicating a “code red for humanity”, this COP was deemed to be the most pivotal to date – crucial in dictating climate outcomes in the not-so-distant future and at the same time signalling how industries might operate in the coming years.

The overall outcome of the Conference, delivered on Saturday evening, sparked disappointment and devastation amongst many, with the strong consensus that the Glasgow Climate Pact is not enough – falling short in many areas including the phasing out of coal and an adequate loss and damage funding mechanism for vulnerable countries.

Whilst it is evident that the fashion sector must play a significant role in influencing climate change, the programme was not necessarily indicative of this and there were still too few fashion-specific activations on the official COP26 agenda. Despite this, the industry still came into focus for a number of discussions and commitments taking place over the two-week period and we have collated seven of the key takeaways for fashion from COP26.

1. Pre-COP26 Masterclass

Increasingly evident is the salience of policy in incentivising change within the fashion industry. During COP26, fashion designer, Stella McCartney reiterated her belief that companies will not drastically change voluntarily and instead, McCartney called on governments to set standards for annual reports, be stringent against the rampant rise of greenwashing and to consider possible taxes and financial incentives for different materials depending on their carbon footprint.

Ahead of COP26, Global Fashion Agenda hosted a ‘Fashion on Climate for COP26 Masterclass’. During the session we called on policymakers to enter negotiations at COP26 with the following policy recommendations in mind: Create transparency on starting point, drive decarbonisation upstream, work collectively to ramp up industry efforts, accelerate adoption of renewable energy, reduce overstock, and design, produce and buy circular.

Watch the Masterclass here.

2. Textile Exchange Trade Policy Request

Continuing to stress the seismic impact of fashion to policymakers, Global Fashion Agenda joined forces with over 50 companies and organisations to support the call from Textile Exchange for policy change to incentivise the use of environmentally preferred materials. The request, presented at COP26, seeks to encourage the implementation of less carbon intensive materials by either mitigating or narrowing the current price premium.

The hope is that policymakers will follow suit in setting mandatory measures for companies in an important step towards rectifying some of the devastation fashion has inflicted thus far.

3. Renewed Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action

Our Fashion on Climate report indicated that the fashion industry, on its current trajectory, is expected to miss its 2030 emissions reductions targets by 50%. In the face of unnerving statistics such as this, and with little signs of growth abating, an ambitious renewed Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was announced, laying out a common vision for fashion.

The new Fashion Charter was the focus of a series of COP26 events: ‘Fashion Industry on the Race to Zero’, during which our CEO, Federica Marchionni, reiterated how encouraging it was to see how the topic of sustainable fashion has been evolving since 2009 when Copenhagen hosted COP15. Watch the event here.

The updated Fashion Charter is currently signed by 130 companies and 41 supporting organisations, Global Fashion Agenda is proud to be amongst these organisations. The Charter includes signatories such as our Strategic Partners, Kering, H&M Group, Target, PVH, and Nike, who must set Science Based Targets to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, or drastically reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. Moreover, companies need to tackle energy efficiency, phase out coal by 2030, source 100% ‘priority materials’ by 2030 and engage in increased levels of supplier’s due diligence. The newfound focus on supply chain collaboration is crucial as over 70% of the industry’s emissions come from upstream activities.1

Read more about the updated Fashion Charter here.

4. Country-Specific Commitments

A non-negotiable, to prevent some of the worst-case climate scenarios, is ensuring we keep global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, in line with the Paris Agreement. As a response to the growing pressure to comply with this commitment, many countries made a number of pledges which will inevitably have a ripple effect on the fashion industry.

One pledge saw 20 countries commit to no longer financing new international fossil fuel projects beyond next year, and to invest that money into clean energy instead, with another pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Over 40 countries have committed to shift away from coal.

Additionally, over 100 world leaders (representing more than 85% of the world’s forests) made a commitment to reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. Research shows that in 2020, 48% of fashion’s supply chain was potentially linked with deforestation.2

As these commitments come into fruition, the industry must be prepared for changes throughout supply chains.

5. A Celebration of Fashion

Amidst a surge of important negotiations and commitments throughout the Conference, it was encouraging to see that fashion was celebrated for the creative outlet that it is.

The British Fashion Council partnered with the GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland Campaign to showcase UK innovation, highlighting brands such as Ahluwalia, Burberry, Stella McCartney and Phoebe English. The show came as part of the ‘Future of Fashion’ installation by Stella McCartney which presented innovators such as Bolt Threads (who are part of Global Fashion Agenda’s Innovation Forum) and its mycelium based “un-leather” Mylo, and Evrnu whose NuCycl™️ and ECONYLⓇ materials are made from regenerated nylon obtained from postconsumer waste and ocean plastics.

At The New York Times Climate Hub, Creative Inverclyde hosted a sustainable fashion show featuring an art installation by Craig Black and runway styles curated by Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show and rental specialists, ACS Clothing and Hirestreet. Models emerged into an immersive forest setting and throughout the show a clothing swap took place between attendees.

Fashion has the ability to foster innovation, empower communities, communicate new ideas, and showcase identities and cultures. In turn, fashion must not be dismissed but rather reinvented and utilised to galvanise creatives to present pioneering climate solutions.

6. Representation and Community Power

We must not forget that the climate issue is a life issue that has begun to take hold on vulnerable communities globally. As we see new ideologies emerge it is important to ensure that all voices are included – for example, Indigenous Peoples safeguard 80% of the world’s biodiversity and representation seldom reflects this fact.3The intricate web of issues that emerge as a result of climate change are complex and can be overwhelming, but we cannot expect to better our understanding without listening to the voices of the communities on the front lines of the climate crisis. Climate justice is paramount.

This type of demand and recognition was a driving force behind the demonstrations and marches that took place throughout COP26 which highlighted public concern. Many were disheartened to learn that more delegates from the fossil fuel industry attended COP than from any single country. Concurrent with the high-level discussions between world leaders – on the fringes, activists, students, citizens, and grassroots organisations convened to protest, collaborate, and hold governments accountable. This made for some of the most noteworthy COP26 activity.

7. Maintaining Momentum

If COP26 signalled anything, it is that we can no longer accept hollow platitudes about aspirational goals in the far-off future. Let this be an inflection point for our industry – it is imperative that sustainability is no longer something we should encourage, but rather, something we should insist upon.

We must not draw a line under the past two weeks and instead, continue the dialogues, engage with policymakers, increase the binding commitments, and most importantly start implementing changes immediately to expedite a meaningful transformation.

Speaking at the Conference, Sir David Attenborough poignantly reminded us of the essential nature of a sustainable revolution born out of optimism: “We must use this opportunity to create a more equal world and our motivation should not be fear, but hope.”

References

1. Global Fashion Agenda (2020). Fashion on Climate.

2. Vogue Business (2020). How fashion is distancing itself from deforestation.

3. National Geographic (2018). Indigenous peoples defend Earth’s biodiversity – but they’re in danger.

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