UN Climate Report To Push Sustainable Fashion Further

Callouts to bio-textiles, vegans, fossil fashion and financing inform latest UN climate report.

By Kayley Roshitsh 05/04/2022

By now, much of the world is aware climate mitigation strategies are urgently needed to clip emissions and mitigate global warming, yet the gap between meaningful action keeps widening.

On Monday, researchers from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III, released their latest report in a comprehensive series detailing the catastrophic impacts of the global climate crisis.

“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius; without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III, which released the latest report.

The report catalogues the costs of inaction, as well as policy, infrastructure, lifestyle and technology changes meant to mitigate the impact.

Last month, The IPCC Working Group II, released a report tallying up regional damages of climate change while urging decision-makers not to delay action. Meanwhile, East Antarctica became a headline-making visual reminder of what’s at stake when an ice shelf the size of New York City broke off the continent amid unprecedented global temperature rise.

These efforts build upon an August report which signalled the critical need for net-zero emissions.

Big Profit 

Global growth is outpacing energy efficiency even in spite of decreased costs for clean energy.

Since 2010, the price of renewable energy has decreased, but keeping things the way they are — as in dependent on fossil fuels (even in fashion) — only leads to increased transition costs, per the report.

Michael Bradshaw, professor of global energy at Warwick Business School, added additional context.

“Even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the world was in the grips of an energy price crisis as economies recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. The result for consumers in the U.K. and across Europe has been high oil prices and record high gas prices, making energy services increasingly unaffordable for many,” he said. “For the long term, we must double down on decarbonization, moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible to build a more sustainable and affordable energy system. That, too, will present its own energy security challenges.”

There’s a rich disparity between the worst polluters and emitters.

The wealthiest people and nations are contributing the most to global warming. According to the report, the richest 10 percent of households are responsible for between one-third (36 percent) to nearly half (or 45 percent) of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest 50 percent of households contribute around 15 percent of emissions.

Plant-based Promises

For the vegetarians and vegans in the room, the report celebrated diets that are high in plant-based protein and low in meat and dairy for its lower greenhouse gas emissions footprint.

Emerging food technologies — and plant-based alternatives to animal-based products and bio-textiles — were also a place of promise for reduced impact. Processes like cellular fermentation and algae were called out, and similar conclusions could be drawn for fashion’s recent love affair with plant-based materials.

According to the Material Innovation Initiative, next-gen materials saw US$980 million raised across 187 investors and 95 companies, which is double the amount raised in 2020, at $426 million. The organization estimates the global wholesale market for next-gen materials will be roughly $2.2 billion by 2026.

It’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to petroleum-based options.

Commenting on the report, Renat Heuberger, chief executive officer at sustainability strategy firm South Pole, said: “Companies need to get much better at pricing externalities — in this case, putting a more meaningful price on carbon, and doing it fast. Carbon markets can offer one critical way to close the life-threatening emissions gap — both in terms of avoiding emissions but also removing them from the atmosphere.”

Speeding Ahead 

Many efforts are underway to scale financing, innovation and greater unity, but progress is not happening fast enough.

Nations failed to meet the financing goals outlined under the Paris Agreement to mobilise US$100 billion per year by 2020 for meaningful climate mitigation action, and costs will only go up. Poorer countries, meanwhile, are lagging on the trillions of dollars of investment capital needed each year this decade. Even though ESG is rising in appeal, the world needs to invest three to six times more than it’s currently spending on mitigating climate change.

For clamping down on carbon, forest-capture sequestration methods like tree planting are necessary (and already taken up by companies from Kering to P&G). That, however, won’t be cheap as net costs are estimated to reach $400 billion by 2050 to sequester 5 to 6 gigatons of CO2 per year, which is just a dent in annual emissions. (For perspective, the August IPCC report put the carbon budget — or how much the world can emit — at 500 gigatons of CO2 per year for limiting temperature rise to the 1.5-Degrees Celsius limit).

Outside of the usual culprits, like sustainable development, greener transportation and buildings, and walkable cities, the report looked at a host of positive societal changes, among them increased recycling and more remote work as hopes for reduced footprints.

This article was originally published on WWD.

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