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What The New UN Climate Change Report Means For Fashion

As global temperatures rise steadily, here’s what the future looks like for brands

By Gargi Agrawal  August 20th, 2021

From being a purveyor of fast fashion to selling the sought-after, evergreen denim—it’s not new that the fashion industry is the most polluting. Water wastage, overproduction, rising landfills and excessive plastic consumption are just some aspects of fashion that have contributed to where the world stands today. And here’s the latest update—an epochal new report from the UN about climate change warns that the global temperature will rise by 1.5° Celsius in the coming two decades. 

According to Alok Sharma, President-Designate of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, “We all need to follow the science and embrace our responsibilities to limit the 1.5°C rises. This includes the fashion industry.” The UN report puts forward the truth stating that if actions are not taken quickly, it will lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts. And this directly points to one thing—fashion needs to act sooner.

UN Report

With sustainability being a buzzword in the industry, today fashion lacks the urgency that’s required to make a real change. And while the report puts pressure on all governments for the reduction in carbon emissions and pollution, it’s time for fashion to relook at its efforts and fix those which are misplaced. So, what can the fashion industry really do to help?


Setting Short Term Goals

Brands across the globe have set distant goals to achieve targets of reducing carbon emissions. For instance, the Kering Group aims to reduce 70% of its supply chain emissions by 2030 while high-street names like Burberry pledged a 46% reduction by 2030. If crucial reductions are to be achieved with long-term goals, how do we address the current dire situation?

UN Report

While the brands have targets in place, it’s also surrounded by the ambiguity of whether it will be achieved. For more substantial impact and efficiency, fashion needs to set quicker targets.


Avoiding Piecemeal Efforts

As fashion makes a stride towards sustainability, its effort is too niche to make a real difference. The UN report makes it clear that it’s the scientists who will determine the efficiency of a brand’s effort to tackle rising temperatures. It has nothing to do with its marketing or ethical collections. Today terms like sustainability have found a way into the realms of fashion PR which pitches brands as to ethical for the sake of popular opinion, with no scientific reasoning.

It’s time for brands to address the full spectrum and not make piecemeal changes. For this, more aggressive and urgent efforts are required.


Considering The Entire Product Lifecycle

It’s simple. Just launching a sustainable line isn’t enough. Especially when the rest of the brand operations do not comply with ethical processes. Instead of looking for green raw materials, brands should consider their products’ entire lifecycle, which entails aspects like switching to clean energy or planning for end-of-life options. Deep diving into every process and injecting it with conscious efforts are now needed more than ever.

The UN climate change report states that what companies do in the next five or ten years is really crucial. If the emission targets are not achieved by 2030, the efforts by these brands for 2050 will be meaningless. And if fashion doesn’t hold itself accountable for the consequences today, it will face more disruption and crisis in the near future.

Photographs: Getty Images, Instagram