COP26: what does it mean for the fashion industry?

COP26 saw agreements across fields of business with the goal of keep global warming to a minimum. Here we highlight what has been done across the fashion industry, from The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action drawn up during the last COP, how it’s evolved to meet increasing demands for action, to how brands such as Stella McCartney, Burberry and Ralph Lauren are driving change, for a more sustainable fashion industry.


The Industry’s problem

The topic of sustainability in fashion has become more prevalent in recent years, conscious collections, promises and hardened policies can be seen across the industry. Yet, fashion remains the second biggest polluter (after the oil industry). And worryingly, the industry’s emissions are actually predicted to rise to around 2.7 billion tonnes a year by 2030. Meaning, if current practices stay the same, the outlook is pretty bleak. In fact, based on the current trajectory, fashion’s emissions would double the maximum level required to keep global warming to 1.5°C (the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to keep global warming below a disastrous level).


COP26 shows general success for action against climate change

O.k, that all sounds quite damning. However, stuff is being done, COP26 seems to have been a productive for agreements on temperature increase, deforestation, use of oil & transition to renewable energy sources and more; it even saw a joint agreement from the U.S & China (the World’s largest polluters) to boost climate cooperation. But what happened across the fashion industry? Well, we’ve pulled out some key highlights below so you can see what’s been going on during COP26.


The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action

First, we need to look at the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, this really is the key piece. A charter convened by the United Nations Climate Change council, provides a framework for multi-stakeholder dialogue and engagement on climate action across brands and suppliers in the fashion sector. The main aim of which is to drive the fashion industry to net zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050, in line with that Paris Climate Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The mission for reduced carbon emissions is underpinned by various commitments and values related to ambitious climate action, strong collaboration, a dedication to the Sustainable Development Goals, transparency and accountability, and respect for human rights.

A look by Stella McCartney shown at the BFC showcase.Photo: Peter Summers


The Charter’s evolution over COP26

Since the launch of the charter in 2018, 130 companies and 41 supporting organisations have committed to climate action, including the likes of Burberry, Chanel, Gucci-owner Kering, Nike and Adidas. However, during COP26, efforts to reduce fashion’s impact has been increased. The updated Charter has now seen brands commit to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to the previous target of 30 per cent) or setting Science Based Targets, establishing a roadmap to better reduce emissions in line with the Paris agreement.

“We realised [the 2018 Fashion Charter] isn’t enough any longer,” Niclas Svenningsen, manager of Global Climate Action at UN Climate Change, said at the Fashion Charter event in Glasgow. “We need to make it stronger, more concrete, more ambitious.”

COP26 also saw LVMH, the owner of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Givenchy, sign up to the Fashion Charter for the first time – a significant move for the industry, considering how many brands this behemoth controls.

Diving into some more specifics, the Charter has also set a new target for 100 per cent of “priority” materials – such as cotton, viscose, polyester, wool and leather – to be “low climate impact” by 2030. The intent is to drive the use of materials that can be recycled in a closed loop, and are deforestation-free, conversion-free (maintaining natural biodiversity and reducing ecosystem destruction) and produced using regenerative practices.

Further commitments in the updated Charter include sourcing 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, sourcing of environmentally friendly raw materials, and phasing out coal from the supply chain by 2030 among others.

Announcements made beyond the charter

The Fashion Industry Charter truly is the key piece, the collaborative effort provides a cohesive framework for those that sign, ensuring a joint effort to tackle climate change. However, we did see further promises being made outside of this.


Stella McCartney continues to lead

Stella McCartney launched the exhibit, ‘Future of Fashion: An innovation conversation with Stella McCartney’ in Glasgow as part of the HRH Prince Charles Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI). The exhibit explored Stella McCartney’s nature-positive approach to fashion, as well as the brand’s use of next-generation materials, with displays made from Bolt Threads’ Mylo mycelium leather, grown from mushrooms, the world’s first vegan football boots created in collaboration with Paul Pogba and Adidas by Stella McCartney, regenerative cotton from Söktaş, and Evrnu NuCycl and Econyl regenerated nylon sourced from post-consumer waste and ocean plastics. The exhibit was present to highlight current achievements, as well as plans for the future.

Stella McCartney and Prince Charles at COP26 Future of Fashion exhibition


Burberry focus on Biodiversity

Over the week, we saw British heritage fashion house Burberry announcing their action to “protect, restore and regenerate nature” as they builds on its climate positive commitment with a new biodiversity strategy. The biodiversity strategy builds upon its recent commitment to become Climate Positive by 2040 and will expand the scope of its current initiatives. It will do so by: 

  • Applying a nature-based approach in its own value chain and in areas of greatest need beyond its operations. This will hopefully slow further global warming as part of the transition towards the 1.5°C pathway set out in the Paris Agreement.
  • Protect and restore nature within and beyond Burberry’s own value chain through projects supported via the Burberry Regeneration Fund
  • Expand support for farming communities by intensifying existing efforts around farm-level certifications and training where Burberry sources raw materials
  • Developing regenerative supply chains, applying regenerative and holistic land management practices to grazing or farming systems. Burberry outline Biodiversity plan at COP26

Ralph Lauren outline sustainability commitments

Meanwhile, premium label Ralph Lauren outline a number of sustainability commitments, whilst applauding the continued development of the US Regenerative Cotton Fund. Some of the initiatives announced by The Ralph Lauren Group (head of Ralph Lauren and other U.S brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Denim & Supply, RRL, Club Monaco and Chaps) were:

  • RL joined others in agreeing to a series of commitments reflective of the COP26 efforts, as part of its Global Citizenship and Sustainability goals.
  • Signed the We Mean Business Coalition, a statement urging G-20 nations to strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions by at least halving global emissions by 2030 and committing to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Signed a policy statement, in line with the Textile Exchange, requesting policymakers work with the fashion industry to develop thoughtful trade policy mechanisms, dedicated to adopting eco-friendly materials
  • Advocated for the Clean Energy Demand Initiative, demanding clean energy procurement options in several key global markets where it operates.
  • Praised the selection of the US Regenerative Cotton Fund as an Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) Innovation Sprint Partner. The initiative will be supported by the US and the United Arab Emirates through investments over the next five years. Ralph Lauren has also supported the fund with a five million dollar grant from its Foundation.


U.K. brands unite to drive change

Beyond the exhibits or action on Biodiversity, leading British brands Burberry, Phoebe English and Stella McCartney joined with the British Fashion Council and the UK’s GREAT campaign at COP26 to showcase the UK’s commitment to climate action through fashion innovation.

“We are pleased to be able to showcase our work and methods as part of the COP26 conference. The fashion sector has a huge opportunity to be contributing to healthier less extractive systems. It is imperative that as an industry we are unified in our actions to make these approaches general practice across the international sector.” Said Designer, Pheobe English.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also commented on the initiative “The GREAT campaign showcases the best of the UK’s creativity and ingenuity across the world. From infinitely recyclable clothing to carbon neutral companies, it’s brilliant to see these British fashion brands innovating and leading the industry towards a greener future. I know many more businesses will work hard to make fashion more sustainable in the years to come and I commend the industry’s resolve to play their part in this.”

During the event, several designers demonstrated the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change through their collections, adopting innovative materials & processes to, whilst weaving the message of climate action into their products to encourage behaviour change in consumers.


Designers and models pose outside Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum during the GREAT Fashion For Climate Action event (Getty Images for GREAT/BFC)


A positive outcome that needs ongoing attention

Of course, these actions, agreements, sentiments and statements nod to the positive. The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action is a driving force against climate change and looks to be building more and more momentum. However, the balance of production, consumption and output need to be shifted to tackle the ongoing question of climate change. Meeting carbon output goals by 2050 or even 2030 are great, but what happens beyond that? The move to a more sustainable industry must see constant change an evolution to ensure positive response for people and planet. We’ll do what we can whilst keeping a close eye, so please do keep following our journey for more like this.

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