The global fashion, garment, and textile industry currently provides employment for over 75 million people and generates EUR 1.5 trillion in annual revenue. However, it is also a major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, producing 10% of annual global carbon emissions through the manufacturing of products and materials. Decarbonizing the sector is therefore a vital step toward mitigating climate change and keeping global warming at well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
However, for the sector’s millions of workers, many of them low-paid or informal, an unmanaged transition toward low emissions and sustainability can threaten their livelihoods and jeopardize their future. Their needs and vulnerabilities need to be recognized and incorporated into climate action and the structural changes the industry requires.
Just transition refers to the transformation of economies and societies toward environmental sustainability, decarbonization, climate change adaptation, eradication of poverty, decent work, social inclusion, justice, and equity. There is no universally accepted definition of "just transition," but various organisations, such as unions, the International Labour Organization, or OECD, have put forward frameworks and key elements.
At its core, just transition is about leaving no one behind and providing safety for workers, their families, and communities at large. It is also about utilizing opportunities and choosing pathways of transformation that will provide decent work, social inclusion, equity, and resilience for all. Key elements include institutional arrangements and policy coherence (including macroeconomic and labour market policies), social dialogue, skills development, occupational health and safety, and social protection.
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), just transition was first identified as a key area of work under the work programme and forum on response measures adopted and established at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in 2011. As part of the work programme, a SBSTA/SBI workshop on just transition took place in 2013, resulting in a number of suggested actions to advance the discussion.
In 2015, the issue of just transition was included into the Paris Agreement through a commitment of parties to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.” Parties to the UNFCCC further committed to addressing just transition in their NDCs and other climate-related plans and policies through the Silesia Declaration at COP25 in 2018.
In addition, the debate around just transition needs to take into account the context of developed as well as developing countries, and the needs, challenges, and opportunities in all economic and societal sectors, including fashion, garment, and textile companies, their suppliers, and other actors within the sector.
At the same time as the Silesia Declaration, the UNFCCC launched the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. By the time of COP26, one year after its launch, it was already signed by over a hundred fashion companies. Through this, the signatories commit to 30% GHG emission reductions by 2030 and science-based, measurable, and transparent decarbonization in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, including through collaboration with other stakeholders.
Similarly, the G7 Fashion Pact is a CEO-led global coalition of fashion and textile companies and supply chain actors that have committed to implement the Fashion Charter as well as additional actions to reduce emissions, protect the Earth’s biodiversity, and reduce plastic pollution.
SLYCAN Trust’s initiative on Just Transition in Fashion aims to bring together two ambitions regarding the fashion industry: to reduce emissions for climate change mitigation and to protect and include the workforce, their families, and their communities in a just and equitable transition. By bringing different stakeholders together in a global dialogue and enhancing awareness and capacities on the challenges of just transition in fashion, we will support evidence-based, inclusive, and participatory action from the private sector, policy-makers, workers, civil society, and other entities.
There are already good practices, case studies, and experiences from just transition in other sectors, including proven strategies to protect livelihoods, ways of life, and the socioeconomic fabric of communities and entire regions. Some of the tools that can render a wide-scale transformation of the fashion industry just and equitable include institutional and policy coherence, social and tripartite dialogues, skills development, social protection systems, holistic data collection and analysis, multi-stakeholder communication and coordination, as well as the recognition of specific needs and vulnerabilities related to gender, youth, the elderly, persons with disabilities, impoverished communities, informal workers, migrant workers, and indigenous communities.
Sharing knowledge and expertise through virtual and in-person engagement, knowledge products, and dialogue forums will allow key actors to better address the challenges of greening and decarbonating the fashion industry while leaving no one behind, integrating workers and communities into the transition, and continue striving toward achieving the sustainable development goals set in the Agenda 2030.
Connecting local and national actions with the intergovernmental processes under the UNFCCC related to just transition and emission reduction will create additional momentum and enhance the actions of companies, governments, and other stakeholders toward a brighter future.
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