The discussions taking place at COP21 have created an atmosphere of high expectation. However it can be hard to imagine what, at the end of the 2 week long discussion, will be the impact on me, myself and I? Knowing the fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry second only to oil, I have an expectation that the outcomes of COP21 will have implications for my wardrobe.
This article was also published on The International Post Magazine
As we come to the start of the second week of COP21, discussions continue over how to achieve the 2 Degree goal, and limit temperature increases to 2°C by 2100. World leaders from 195 countries have gathered at what is anticipated to be our best chance at changing the future of our planet. The largest countries represented include China and the USA. The smallest countries present include the President of Marshall Islands, with a population of 72,000. The aim of gathering these leaders is to reflect the positions of multiple nations, and also influential individuals. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, influential private individuals, have already pledged to increase their investments in clean energy as part of the COP21 action plan. Facebook employs a ‘population’ of 9,199, and Microsoft 118,000. Whilst the technology industry does have significant climate change impacts of it’s own, I wonder which representatives from other industries such as fashion have a voice? Fashion is one of the world’s largest employers.
What is the environmental impact of the fashion industry?
We are becoming increasingly more aware of the impact of what we wear on the environment, thanks to not only traditional research bodies, but fashion companies themselves. Luxury fashion group Kering, employer of 33,000 people, made a big step for the industry earlier this year. They published an environmental profit and loss statement, with results showing fashion’s impact on water, air and waste, to name a handful. According to WWF, it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed for one T-Shirt. Fashion Revolution Day equates that to the amount of water each of us would drink in 3 years. Cotton agriculture and textile dyeing also have implications for water pollution. Aside from water, air pollution is also another environmental issue from the industry. During raw material processing, and garment manufacture, factories emit a number of toxins.
Where are the effects of fashion’s environmental impact felt?
Air pollution is a threat which Paris, host for the COP21 discussions, has suffered from itself. Approaching the arrival of world leaders, the city encouraged its citizens to use bicycles over cars. This was in line with the French government’s 5 year plan to turn their city into a global cycling capital. India’s capital New Delhi and China’s capital Beijing have some of the worst effects of air pollution. India’s Prime Minister Modi & China’s President Xi Jinping are under pressure from their citizens to find some resolutions. Both countries are also known as the home of globally competitive garment manufacturing industries. I made a visit to Bangalore last month, a city in India’s state Karnataka, which in April 2015 reported higher levels of air pollution than New Delhi or Beijing. The city is also home to a number of factories aside from just fashion related, and there is the impacts of traffic pollution. Whilst there is no data for Bangalore and textile factory emissions in particular, research shows factory emissions are present in the atmospheric pollution, and Bangalore has some 200+ garment factories. Bangalore’s rivers caught India’s attention earlier this year when rivers surrounding the city began to produce large amounts of toxic foam, which grew so large it resembled snow. The contaminated water was a result of extreme pollution, in part, from factory waste.
A key debate for COP21 is who will be most affected by the effects of climate change, with the poorest countries set to be hit first and most. Discussions in the next few days are also positioned to revolve around how developed nations, such as the USA, can commit to supporting the developing nations in their fight against environmental pollution. In the long term, however, or incredibly soon, the effects of environmental pollution could be widely felt across ‘poorer’ and ‘wealthier’ borders.
What could COP21 mean for your wardrobe?
If we are to commit to the 2Degree goal, it is clear that we will have to think again about what we’re wearing. Whilst on an individual level it can be hard to imagine the impact that COP21 could have, we could begin by considering how we could change what we wear every day. There are an increasing amount of options in the fashion industry which are embracing circular economy models. Just last week, MUD jeans launched their jeans leasing model in the UK. As the COP21 discussions continue, I will be looking out for the fashion choices made by our world leaders.