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Fashion industry ups its emissions reduction pledge at COP26—but many popular online brands stay away

November 9, 2021, 1:02 PM UTC
Updated November 9, 2021, 8:50 PM UTC

The fashion industry is moving up a size on its emissions reduction pledge.

At the UN COP26 climate summit on Tuesday, signatories of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, the industry’s mission statement, committed to cut emissions by half in the next decade compared with 2019 levels—a deeper drop than their previous commitment to cut by 30% over the next 10 years.

The overarching goal is the same—net zero by 2050—but the amplified commitments made by 130 retailers and 41 organizations, including companies like Burberry, H&M Group, Inditex, VF Corp., Kering, and Nike, are meant to bring the industry more in line with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, known as the 1.5-degree pathway.

However, many of the most popular online retail brands, like Boohoo, ASOS, Fashion Nova, and Shein, were noticeably missing from the list of signatories.  

Luxury king LVMH was also not listed as one of the 130 signatories, but it has separately committed to cut Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output by 55% by 2030, and cut emissions linked to energy consumption by 50% compared with 2019 levels by 2026.  

Along with emissions cutting, the updated Fashion Industry Charter also includes commitments to source 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, phase out coal from supply chains by 2030, and increase the usage of environmentally friendly raw materials.

Fashion is the fourth most emitting industry after energy, transport, and food. The global apparel and footwear industry produced more greenhouse gases than France, Germany, and the U.K. combined in 2018. And according to a 2020 McKinsey report, without any abating actions taken, the industry’s carbon emissions would rise to around 2.7 billion metric tons a year by 2030.

The same report said that in order to reach the 1.5-degree pathway, the industry would need to reduce annual emissions to around 1.1 billion metric tons—or half the emissions the industry emitted in 2020. 

Achim Berg, senior partner at McKinsey & Co., author of the report said at the time of writing he estimated the industry needed to half its emissions by 2030 from a 2018 baseline, “so halving emissions from today would be great progress but too little too late,” he tells Fortune. He added “the commitments of the signatories will not be enough—further work is needed to galvanize full industry change,” but the signal from COP26 is important in gaining traction.

The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action was launched in December 2018 at the COP24 summit held in Katowice, ‎Poland, to bring the industry in line with the 1.5-degree pathway. Stefan Seidel of Puma, a cochair of the Fashion Industry Charter, said of the renewed commitment: “This is an important milestone for the Fashion Charter, as it increases the ambition level in an effort to align the industry with 1.5 degrees.”  

Update, November 9, 2021: This article has been updated with a comment from Achim Berg, senior partner at McKinsey & Co.

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