COP 26: How Fashion Is Increasing Climate Efforts

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland, last week. Bangladesh is well-represented at the global climate conference by a team led by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association President Faruque Hassan (BGMEA). The goals of COP26, after all, are pertinent to the global garment industry and its supply chains.

What exactly is COP26?

The United Kingdom is hosting the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in collaboration with Italy. COP26 was initially set for November 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland, but was pushed back by one year because to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now scheduled to take place from October 31 to November 12, 2021.

COP is an abbreviation for ‘Conference of the Parties.’ The governments that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are referred to as “the Parties” in the climate change context (UNFCCC). Once a year, the COP brings these signatory states together to debate how to jointly combat climate change.

World leaders, ministers, and negotiators, as well as representatives from civil society, business, international organizations, and the media, attend the conferences.

Each year, a new country hosts the COP, and the first such meeting – dubbed ‘COP1’ – was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995.

What is the goal of COP26, and why is it important?

The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is a major gathering for global climate action. To have a chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, global emissions must be cut in half by 2030 and achieve “net-zero” by 2050.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for 2021 emphasizes that meeting the 1.5-degree target is still attainable, but only if unprecedented action is made immediately.

The NDCs submitted in 2015 were collectively insufficiently ambitious to restrict global warming to “far below” 2 degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement signatories, on the other hand, are expected to submit fresh – and more ambitious – NDCs every five years, a process known as the ‘ratchet mechanism.’

The first test of this ambition-raising function will be during COP26. One of the primary “benchmarks for success” in Glasgow is that as many states as possible submit new NDCs that, when combined, are ambitious enough to put the world on pace for “far below” 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5.

The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is significant: every degree increase means increasing dangers for people, communities, and ecosystems. The United Kingdom’s overriding goal for the Glasgow conference is to “keep 1.5 degrees alive.”

A successful outcome in Glasgow will also necessitate affluent countries fulfilling a promise made in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to fund climate action in underdeveloped countries. Official data for 2020 will not be available until 2022, but the objective was clearly not met last year.

Recent declarations, such as President Joe Biden’s vow to quadruple US climate money, have moved developed countries closer to honoring the pledge, but more must be done to restore credibility and strengthen confidence between developing and developed countries.

Another significant aspect of COP26 is strengthening the ability to adapt to climate change impacts, as is the subject of how to cope with economic and non-economic disadvantages produced by climate change impacts that cannot be prevented through adaptation or mitigation, known as ‘loss and damage.’

Discussions on these topics frequently center on mobilizing funding, but it is also critical that parties make progress on other concerns, such as further operationalizing the Paris Agreement’s ‘global target on adaptation,’ which is currently undefined.

Parties must also aim to finish the Paris Agreement’s ‘implementation guide’ — the Paris Rulebook – at COP26. The ‘Article 6 negotiations’ to determine what regulations should regulate international carbon markets are expected to be particularly tough.

According to McKinsey, the global industry was responsible for around 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, which is similar to the combined emissions of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

“The industry realized the 2018 commitment was insufficient,” said Achim Berg, McKinsey’s fashion lead. “We should rejoice that it is progressing in the right direction, but the entire industry must move beyond commitments to action.”

COP 26 and Fashion

There’s no denying that the sustainability discourse in fashion has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last three years, with labels racing to declare various eco-minded strategies — whether it’s promises to net zero or the goal of becoming carbon positive (meaning that companies are drawing more carbon from the atmosphere than is emitted).

Still, given that the Global Fashion Agenda’s 2020 research indicated the industry’s emissions are likely to climb to about 2.7 billion tonnes per year by 2030 if existing measures remain unchanged, it’s apparent there’s a lot of work to be done. In fact, depending on present trends, fashion emissions would be more than double the maximum amount required to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

Burberry and H&M are among 130 companies that have vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, but the industry as a whole will fall well short if current trends continue. The major brands raised their objective from a prior goal of decreasing emissions by one-third established in 2018, as part of an attempt under the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, the new UN fashion charter signatories, which include LVMH, Kering, Chanel, Nike, Adidas, and Puma, represent only a small portion of the vast garment and footwear sector.

During the UN Fashion Charter event at Cop26 (under the new agreement), brands will have 12 months to submit plans on how they will accomplish the new pledges, and will be required to provide updates every three years after that. Along with agreements to reduce emissions more quickly, the Charter has also established a new aim of having 100% of “priority” materials – such as cotton, viscose, polyester, wool, and leather – be low climate impact by 2030. The agreement particularly mentions materials that can be recycled in a closed loop, are deforestation-free, conversion-free (meaning natural ecosystems are not damaged), and are manufactured using regenerative processes.

While the agreements are unquestionably a significant step forward for the sector, several campaigners argue that the current proposals do not go far enough. “[The] Charter misses the point by not committing the industry to 100% renewable energy in its supply chain by 2030, which would be vital to attaining its objective,” Muhannad Malas, senior climate campaigner at Stand.earth, said in a statement, citing “encouraging progress.”

Other experts contend that enforcement is required to ensure that the Charter’s aspirations are more than just aspirational. “What’s excellent is that it sets science-based targets – this is the gold standard for emissions reductions, so that’s really relevant,” New Standards Institute founder Maxine Bedat said. “However, what is the consequence if these targets are not met?”

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