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LONDON – Does anybody really know what fashion is doing when it comes to setting climate targets? This week, the world’s largest fashion retailer, Inditex – owner of Zara – announced that its net zero emissions targets will be brought forward by a decade to 2040 from 2050. Just like that, this huge, sprawling operation with thousands of suppliers knocked a decade off its climate goals.

Ostensibly, this is cause for optimism (even though 2040 itself is lacking in ambition). In reality, this just adds to the air of confusion around an issue where it is increasingly difficult to keep up with who is doing what and one is left wondering whether such targets have lost all meaning. When a target can be arbitrarily brought forward a decade at the drop of a hat, does this not simply illustrate the appalling lack of ambition around 2050 climate targets generally?

In the same week Inditex took this decision, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has now changed its minimum requirement for corporate climate action to the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. The shift away from its previous minimum target of ‘well below 2°C’ means several businesses from the textile and fashion sector which have signed up to the SBTi’s are no longer hitting the SBTi’s minimum target. These include Puma, Aldo and The Children’s Place, which have all set a ‘well below 2°C’ target and viscose fibre manufacturer Lenzing which has set a ‘2°C’ target.

Why was the SBTi not following the Paris Agreement all along? Is this not the gold standard?

In February we reported that of the original instigators of the SBTi and a member of its Technical Advisory Group had submitted a formal complaint to its technical board over “self-dealing conflicts of interest issues.” In the submission, it is claimed the guidance of the SBTi is not aligned with the most robust science, and is compromised by conflicts of interest.

To our knowledge, these issues have yet to be addressed which means we are somewhat dubious about the SBTi in any case. It also seems unfortunate that Lenzing – a business which to our knowledge is actually doing some great work on climate issues – is now left out in the cold here.

In addition to the SBTi we have the UNFCCC Fashion Charter for Climate Action which many of the world’s leading fashion brands have signed up to. This is “guided by its mission to drive the fashion industry to net-zero Greenhouse Gas emissions no later than 2050 in line with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees.”

Then there is the Fashion Pact which also mentions climate and describes itself as “a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry … all committed to a common core of key environmental goals in three areas: stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans.”

The Fashion Pact does not specify any timelines and the generally woolly and ambiguous nature of this initiative suggests to us it’s a talking shop more than anything else.

Nonetheless, what is interesting to note is that many signatories to the Fashion Pact have also signed the Fashion Charter for Climate Action as well as joining the SBTi.

Which one of these are they working towards? Is anybody keeping track of all this?

Throw into this mix the plethora of other industry initiatives which have spawned in recent years with climate as their focus. Just this week H&M, Walmart, IKEA owner Ingka and Kingfisher launched a new initiative to encourage other retailers to set out plans to help meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement.

The Race to Zero Breakthroughs: Retail Campaign is managed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We are told it will be delivered in partnership with the “COP26 High Level Climate Champions.” It calls on retailers to set science-based targets and commit to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.

There are countless more. All saying the same or similar things and, obviously, with huge overlap between each. Many brands seem only too willing to sign up and who can blame them when there is unlikely to be any accountability at all if they miss the various criteria involved (especially given that many of these initiatives will likely quietly disappear in a couple of years when fashion moves onto its Next Big Thing).

Over-layering all this, of course, are individual business pledges. Just about every fashion brand now has its own internal targets where climate is concerned. Where do these fit when it comes to aligning with the numerous industry initiatives they have signed up to on such issues?

I pity the poor soul working for a large brand who is charged with the task of keeping on top of all these issues. It must be a logistical minefield.

Would it not be easier to scrap the multitude of industry initiatives around climate and the whole industry agree to sign up to just one? This one programme could set clear, easy to monitor, ambitious climate goals (and with no allowance for ridiculous carbon off-setting schemes).

Brands could each chip in to ensure such a programme was independently monitored, with annual updates and complete transparency.

This way we could all get to see who is doing what, and laggards would quickly be exposed – and encouraged to up their game.

The alternative is to continue as we are now where even those of us who have spent years writing about this issue frankly haven’t got a clue what is going on where brands and the climate are concerned.

Perhaps they prefer it that way.

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