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Richest consumers need to reduce fashion consumption to fight climate change

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Image: Pixabay

Consumers from countries including the UK, US, Germany, and Japan need to reduce their carbon footprint from fashion consumption to align the fashion industry with the 1.5°C temperature target of the Paris Agreement.

Following COP27, the Hot or Cool Institute and the Rapid Transition Alliance have released the ‘Unfit, Unfair, Unfashionable: Resizing Fashion for a Fair Consumption Space’ report revealing that the current fashion industry is unsustainable and that its trajectory is "at odds" with global efforts to cut emissions to tackle climate change.

The report argues that current fashion consumption and production is unsustainable, as well as structurally unfair, and urgent reform is needed to align with global climate agreements and binding legislation. It states that the fashion industry, from producers and manufacturers to retailers and consumers needs to make “wide-ranging changes to make it more sustainable, fairer and less polluting”.

It found that fashion’s climate impact is far higher in wealthier countries, with the fashion consumption richest consumers across G20 nations 10 times higher than those from the bottom income groups within the same countries.

Fashion carbon footprint driven by richest consumers in G20 nations

The carbon footprint of the richest consumers from countries including the UK, US, Germany, Japan and Saudi Arabia must fall by 60 percent on average by 2030, adds the report. For upper-middle-income nations like Brazil and South Africa, the fashion footprint needs to be reduced by 40 percent by 2030, while in countries such as India and Indonesia, the average carbon footprint of fashion consumption is currently below the 1.5°C limit.

To help the fashion industry align its global climate commitment of 1.5°C, the richest 20 percent in Britain, with an average disposable income of 69,126 pounds, must cut their fashion consumption footprint by 83 percent, while the richest in Germany and Italy must cut its fashion consumption footprint by 75 percent, and the richest in France need to reduce its fashion consumption footprint by 50 percent.

On average, the fashion consumption of the richest 20 percent emits 20 times the emissions of the poorest 20 percent, explains the report, contradicting the dominant narrative that it is poorer citizens, buying ‘cheap’ clothes that makes the current fashion industry unsustainable.

It adds that the richest consumers in countries must only buy an average of five new fashion garments per year by 2030 to keep the 1.5°C target alive. Reducing the overall purchase of new clothing garments is four times more effective at cutting emissions than the next best solution, such as increasing the longevity of clothes.

The report states that fashion could take up to a quarter of the global carbon budget by 2050 without urgent action from government, industry and consumers and that retail mega-events like Black Friday are “totally incompatible with our global climate commitments”. Without making any changes to consumption, the fashion industry’s share of global emissions will increase, and by 2030, emissions from fashion are expected to rise by almost 50 percent.

Lewis Akenji, managing director of Hot or Cool Institute, said in a statement: “The fashion industry needs to come clean about its contribution to the environmental crisis and also its role in perpetuating unfair social and labour conditions around the world. The numbers in this report make it clear. Fast fashion is especially reckless; its operations are mainly designed to keep making money for a few people, at the expense of everyone else and the environment."

Andrew Simms, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, added: “The fashion industry needs to change its ways as quickly as a catwalk model changes their clothes. System and behaviour change, especially by wealthy consumers with bulging wardrobes, need to come together so that people dress themselves within planetary and climate boundaries. Rapid transition to keep a habitable climate now includes rethinking the shirt on your back, with retail mega-events like Black Friday totally incompatible with our global climate commitments.”

Climate Change
Hot or Cool Institute
Rapid Transition Alliance