The Paris Agreement, which went into effect in 2016, determined that the global temperature should not rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
More than 196 Parties signed onto the legally binding treaty. The primary goal is to limit global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere. Following the signing of the agreement, low carbon and carbon neutral solutions have become big business. There has also been a significant push away from fossil fuels as more cities, countries, and companies feel pressure to reduce their environmental impact. No longer is it a question of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; now the problem is can these low carbon initiatives be adopted fast enough. The U.S., India, and China — the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters — still need to take radical action to catch up with their European counterparts. The U.S. officially exited the Paris Agreement in November, but President-elect Biden is expected to rejoin when he takes office in January. China has pledged to reach peak carbon emission by 2030, after which it would start decreasing its amount of annual emissions. India, the least developed of the three countries, estimates it needs roughly $2.5 trillion in aid from developed countries to meet the agreement's climate targets. While governments figure out how to reduce national emissions, businesses have more freedom to decrease their climate impact. This means consumers are also looking to their favorite companies to help the world cap its temperature rise.
If the fashion industry continues down its current path, it will miss the mark by 50% by 2030.
One industry that consumers are looking to is the fashion industry. Clothing production has increased dramatically over the past couple of decades, increasing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from production and shipping. Fashion brands have slowly begun incorporating more environmental sustainability projects into their operations the past couple of years, but according to a new report from McKinsey & Company, it is not enough. If current environmental projects continue, they will just cancel out the emissions related to the growth of the fashion industry. It will not drive emissions in the negative, like what is needed. On the other hand, if the fashion industry gives up on environmental sustainability and does not take any further action to mitigate its impact on the climate, industry-related emissions will rise, overshooting the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree Celsius recommendation by 73% by 2030.
Fashion needs to continue climbing the sustainability ladder, incorporating environmentally-friendly practices rather than settling for what is being done now.
Ultimately, what this revelation from McKinsey & Company shows is that the fashion industry is making some progress with its environmental sustainability, and it can't give up now. Fashion brands need to keep climbing the sustainability ladder, increasing their sustainability initiatives on the way up. Full circularity and carbon negativity are the top peg and would make brands that are not just less bad for the environment but are actually having a positive impact on the climate. Getting there will take a lot of money and a reworking of long-standing practices in the fashion industry, but if this year has taught us anything, it's that rapid change is possible when survival is at stake.
The Bottom Line:
The data from the McKinsey & Company report on sustainable fashion highlights the need to continue moving ahead with environmental sustainability projects. If the industry does nothing more, then emissions will continue to rise. If the industry continues on the path it is on, emissions in 2030 will be the same as 2018 levels. But to meet the levels in line with the Paris Agreement, the fashion industry needs to invest in more sustainability. It turns out being environmentally-friendly is not just good marketing.