Earth Day 2024: Fashion’s Role in Climate Change

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Climate change is accelerating at an alarming rate, with far-reaching implications that extend beyond the environment, affecting everything from human health and livelihoods to the economy.

As we confront this escalating crisis, each successive Earth Day since its inception in 1970 becomes increasingly urgent. This day has been commemorated for over 50 years and yet, progress towards protecting and preserving our planet, its resources, and communities, is far from where it needs to be.

It is widely regarded that awareness for an issue this pertinent and pervasive should not be confined to a single day or month, yet this of course applies to most of the causes we advocate for during a specific period in the year. Despite this, Earth Day, which engages the solidarity and actions of nearly one billion people annually, still stands as a poignant moment to contemplate where we currently stand and what we still need to achieve.

Today, we take a step back and offer a reminder of the realities behind the cause we are rallying for – sustainability in fashion.



Climate change and its consequences 

2023, marked the Earth’s hottest year ever recorded in human history. Just this month, the UN Climate Chief, Simon Stiell, said that governments, business leaders, and development banks have two years to “save the world” and take action to avert far worse climate change.

Between 3.3 and 3.6 billion people – almost half the global population – live in areas where they are “highly vulnerable” to climate change.


According to the IPCC, everywhere is affected, with no inhabited region escaping the consequences of climate change, although the vulnerability of ecosystems and people varies considerably based on factors including inequity, marginalisation, colonialism, and governance.

We all must stand in solidarity with those most vulnerable to environmental hardships and advocate for an intersectional approach to sustainability.



Fashion’s share of the responsibility

Annually, the fashion industry is estimated to contribute between 1.8% and 4% of global GHG emissions, depending on the scope of the assessment and whether it includes logistics, retail, and the product use phase, for instance. An estimated 90% of emissions stem from scope 3 upstream activities that mostly rely on non-renewable energy sources, such as petroleum, gas, oil, and coal.

The European Environment Agency’s 2022 Textile Briefing suggested that: “80% of environmental impacts generated by Europe’s textile consumption takes place outside Europe.” Demonstrating that countries outside of Europe are bearing the brunt of Europe’s often insatiable consumption habits.

In 2022, extreme flooding in Pakistan resulted in the displacement of 8 million people, 1,700 fatalities, and billions in economic damages. As the fourth-largest producer of cotton globally, and with cotton accounting for 55% of the country’s earnings of foreign exchange, Pakistani farmers were disproportionately affected by the floods with many reporting lost annual harvests.


By 2030, extreme weather events could pose risk to $65 billion worth of apparel exports and eliminate nearly one million jobs across Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam.


In general, fashion has made promising progress in recent years, however it is still not on track to meet 2030 and 2050 targets. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action from United Nations Climate Change is a work programme convening fashion stakeholders to develop a coherent and unified position on climate. The Fashion Charter is signed by over 100 companies and 43 supporting organisations, including Global Fashion Agenda. Through the Fashion Charter, progress has been made in areas such as compliance with basic reporting requirements, disclosing climate-related information, and collaboration. However, there is a clear consensus that this sector still has a long way to go.



Fashion’s future

Whilst the pursuit of convenience often reigns supreme, we must step out of our comfort zones to transform the trajectory of this industry. We can no longer accept hollow commitments speaking to aspirational targets in the distant future.

Our interactions with the environment – whether as communities, businesses, governments, or corporations – may both fuel environmental challenges and harbour solutions. It is encouraging to recognise that collectively, the fashion industry is capable of creating truly tangible impact. Fashion has a rich depth of history in conveying pioneering ideas in unique and beautiful ways: we can translate action in ways that no other industry can.

If we can change fashion, we can change everything.


Author, Mary Annaïse Heglar, aptly expressed, “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions.” Later adding that you can indeed be a bit of both at times.

The GFA Monitor 2023 therefore serves as a practical guide, offering clear actions and best practices to address key socio-environmental sustainability priorities within the fashion industry. A culmination of collaboration and expertise, the report draws knowledge from over 25 industry organisations and data insights from more than 900 stakeholders across 90 countries.

The solutions to fashion’s most pressing challenges will be explored further at Global Fashion Summit: Copenhagen Edition 2024. Find out more here.

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