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FLORENCE – Gucci president and CEO, Marco Bizzarri, has urged the global fashion industry to carbon offset its away out of the climate issue – despite extensive evidence that offset schemes are largely ineffective and, in some cases, counter-productive. The industry’s latest kicking-the-can-down the road exercise was announced in an open latter to apparel sector CEOs.

Bizzarri suggested that retailers with a net-zero 2050 pathway face a huge challenge given that the majority of GHG emissions are created in supply chains. He added: “I firmly believe that we must all be accountable for these emissions and redefine corporate carbon neutrality to encompass the entire supply chain. This can be achieved through a logical and clear strategy to ensure that a company accounts for all the GHG emissions within its own operations and across the supply chain, prioritizes actions to first avoid, reduce and restore, and then offsets all the remaining emissions as a final measure.

“These offsets can be achieved through important nature-based solutions like REDD+. Supporting verified REDD+ offsetting projects not only contributes to reversing the curves of biodiversity loss and climate change through the protection and restoration of critically important forests around the world but also simultaneously benefits the livelihoods of local communities.”

The UN formalized the concept as REDD, or Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation. At present, there is no central authority to deal with the varieties of REDD currently in existence and nobody has done a comprehensive assessment of how effective these programmes actually are. This is no surprise as our research on the issue suggests monitoring such initiatives is close to impossible.

In 2014, research from France looked at 120 offset projects and found 37 per cent overlapped with existing protected lands like national parks. The researchers concluded that REDD was simply layered onto existing conservation plans, reducing it to a “logo to attract financing.”

More research on the issue was published in Norway last year. Norway is a major exporter of oil and natural gas and the world’s largest supporter of REDD; some estimates suggest it represents about half of all funding.

Norway’s Office of the Auditor General published a report into offsetting last year which suggested the country’s efforts in this area had failed virtually every test.

The report suggested that, despite almost a decade of work on the issue and US$3bn of spending, results were “delayed and uncertain,” the science of measuring carbon was only “partially in place” and there was “considerable” risk of leakage. This is an issue where protecting one patch of land leads to deforestation elsewhere. That problem alone creates “considerable uncertainty over the climatic impact,” the report said.

Meanwhile a 2015 report from Stockholm Environmental Institute found that 75 per cent of credits issued were “unlikely to represent real reductions,” and that if countries had cut pollution on-site instead of relying on offsets, global CO₂ emissions would have been 600 million tons lower.

For those who suggest that we have to at least do something on the climate issue, the answer is ready and waiting. Shifting to renewable energies in global apparel supply chains is a critical step for the industry. The problem is that many suppliers lack the upfront capital to take this step – a shame given that such investment tends to have a rapid ROI.

The solution, for the likes of Gucci, is to support suppliers with low-interest, short-term loans, repayable over a short time-frame. The International Finance Corporation has already facilitated initiatives of this nature but it needs more private investment to step into this space to upscale the greening of supply chains at the speed to reach various climate goals.

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