Lesson learned? 5 takeaways from the fashion industry’s role at COP26
The United Nations Climate Change Conference stressed the importance of climate action within fashion and will, hopefully, propel the fashion industry towards sustainability.
17 Nov 2021

In past weeks world leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss the crucial question on climate. They did so during the United Nations Climate Change Conference — or what is most often referred to as COP26. The two-week-long conference was postponed a year due to the pandemic. It was originally scheduled for 2020, five years after the Paris Agreement, to reevaluate and renew one of the worlds most important treaties to cap the crucial 1,5 degrees Celsius mark. 

The conclusions and agreements, settled during COP26 and entitled the Glasgow Climate Pact, ended on Saturday evening. Some of the outtakes in the pact is that all nations will have to speed up their climate actions and strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions during 2022 and then gather once again for a roundtable progress report and Leaders Summit in 2023. Commitments were also made from wealthier nations to double their financial support through the Adaption Fund to support developing countries by 2025. 

Whether COP26 could be seen as a success or a failure, depends greatly on whom you are asking. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate-activist that has become a symbol for the climate movement, wrote on Twitter that ”Now as #COP26 is coming to an end, beware of a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome as “good”, “progress”, “hopeful” or “a step in the right direction” and in another harsh tweet she summarized the conference as ”blah, blah, blah”. 

Alok Sharma, President of COP, had a more affirmative tone, when looking back at the conference and the agreements that were made.

— I would say, however, that this is a fragile win. We have kept 1,5 alive. That was our overarching objective when we set off on this journey two years ago, taking on the role of the COP presidency-designate. But I would still say that the pulse of 1.5 is weak. That is why, whilst we have reached, I do believe, a historic agreement. What this will be judged on, is not just the fact that countries have signed up, but on whether they meet and deliver on the commitments, explained Sharma in a concluding statement of COP26.

Fashion and clothing — being one of the worlds biggest manufacturing industries and also one of the most environmentally harmful — was addressed during the conference. In the lead up of the conference, dame Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer and activist, joined forces with the organization, Letters to the Earth. An organization aiming to gather and inspire people to get their voices heard and make a global call for climate action. In her letter, Mrs Westwood addressed the economy and called for governmental cooperation. 

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Ett inlägg delat av Letters to the Earth (@letterstotheearth_)

One of the, if not the most, major fashion happenings during COP26 was the renewed Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. The Fashion Charter was launched in 2018 and the overall aim is to lead the fashion industry to net-zero emissions by 2050, latest. The renewed charter, which is described as ”fashion’s flagship climate initiative” by Business of Fashion, is demanding the signatories to half their emissions by 2030, or set science-based targets, and have to submit updated plans on how to do so within the next 12 months.

The Charter is signed by major players from the fashion industry, such as Kering, Chanel, Burberry, Adidas, Nike and so on. They are also in the updated charter joined by LVMH, the worlds biggest luxury conglomerate and owner of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine, to mention a few. The list of signatories also includes Scandinavian names such as Gant, Haglöfs, H&M, Re:Newcell and Ganni. Besides brands, the list also includes NGOs, retailers and suppliers.

Photography: UNFCCC & Kiara Worth

Federica Marchionni, CEO of Global Fashion Agenda, commented on the renewed Fashion Charter on a panel talk and expressed hope and how the Copenhagen-based organization have been initiating and supporting the charter since the very beginning.

— Seeing the previous and current commitment really gives so much hope, but not only hope — because I am optimistic by heart — but definitely see that there are action and change. For Global Fashion Agenda, being one of the early signatories, at the beginning believing in this charter and helping in the way we can. At Global Fashion Agenda we have a platform where we help convene and mobilize the industry to take action. It was on our stage at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit — the worlds largest event on sustainability in fashion organized by GFA. We were organizing the summit as a side event after COP15 when at that time there was no conversation about the fashion industry. It was for us an opportunity to then engage with the charter. We gave the stage of the summit and invited the team of the charter to have roundtables, broaden the message, have more reach and, most importantly recruit new signatories. We also sat in the steer-co in the begging and co-chaired the communication group. Recently the GFA-team spoke to the signatories about the Fashion on Climate-report. So we are very excited about the work of the charter and the actions it is taking, she said.

What was an occurring theme at COP26 in general, but in the fashion talks in particular, was the need for cross-border collaboration. Stella McCartney, a long-term promoter of sustainable fashion, explained in another panel talk how she has been working with developing new technologies with her suppliers to create sustainable leather imitations and how her brand is incorporating regenerative farming in their work. She also stressed the fact that legislation, incentives and policies are needed for the fashion industry to drive change. During COP26, Stella McCartney and her brand also launched a petition to stop the use of animal leather and fur.

The call for incentives was enforced by the trade policy request from a coalition formed by the non-profit organization Textile Exchange. The request that is signed by over 50 fashion- and textile companies and NGO-s, is a request to governments to easier facilitate and incentivize the use of environmentally preferred materials. Among the signatories are leading brands and conglomerates such as Capri Holding, Kering, H&M Group, Patagonia, VF Corporation and others.

Besides the Fashion Charter, COP26 was an opportunity for brands and organizations to highlight and stress different sustainability initiatives. The British Fashion Council and the UK government’s international marketing campaign GREAT organized an exhibition on how British fashion is tackling climate change through innovation — with featured brands such as Burberry, Stella McCartney, Mulberry and Phoebe English, among others. The brands showcased different strategies on how they work to become even more climate neutral, by using unconventional methods in production and choice of materials. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson commented on the exhibition with great positivity.

— 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, he explained.

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Ett inlägg delat av British Fashion Council (@britishfashioncouncil)

Fashion Open Studio, an initiative by the fashion activist movement Fashion Revolution together with the British Council, organized a series of events in regards to COP26. Together they invited nine international designers, to virtually open up their studios and showcase their responses and practices concerning climate change. The designers, that came from all over the world, showed how small-scale innovation can lever a huge impact. 

The sustainability advocating brand Pangaia took the opportunity to host a roundtable in Glasgow to discuss the importance of bees and pollinators. Deckers Brands, the parent company of Ugg, Hoka and Everlane, declared their partnership with Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi). A well-known organization that are facilitating brands to set emission targets based on climate science. Burberry announced a new biodiversity strategy and Ralph Lauren declared that they commit to several sustainability agreements.

The agreements that were made at COP26 are up for debate — however, there is no doubt the conference has initiated significant changes and brought many people to the table. Now the real work starts and the evaluation will be done further ahead — hopefully, earlier than 2050.