1 July 2022

‘Wake-up call’: Cotton industry urged to act now to tackle escalating climate risks

'Wake-up call': Cotton industry urged to act now to tackle escalating climate risks

Forum for the Future report warns that global cotton industry is at risk of severe disruption from worsening climate impacts

By 2040 half of the world’s cotton growing regions are expected to face drastic exposure to high temperatures, changes to water availability, and extreme weather events, with impacts set to escalate further unless global greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly curbed.

That is the stark warning today contained in a new report from the Cotton 2040 initiative and international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future. The report, titled Adapting to climate change – physical risk assessment for global cotton production’, highlights how the six biggest cotton producing countries: India, the USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan, and Turkey are all facing significant exposure to increased climate risks, while around 75 per cent of the world’s cotton growing regions are set to face increased risk from heat stress.

The global cotton market is worth around $12bn a year and accounts for 31 per cent of all raw material used in a global textile industry with a yearly economic value of over $600bn. The industry supports the livelihoods of around 350 million people globally in the supply chain who cultivate or process cotton.

The findings will add extra pressure to an industry already under scrutiny for its significant water footprint – often in regions already facing water stress.

As such, the report calls on the global cotton industry and the wider fashion and textile sectors to step up efforts to enhance water efficiency across the supply chain, embrace sustainability best practice, and bolster climate resilience and soil quality in cotton producing areas, while also moving to protect the livelihoods of farmers and producers.

Alastair Baglee from risk management specialist Willis Tower Watson, which contributed to the report, said that businesses needed to start preparing now for escalating climate impacts. “As it stands, emission reduction commitments and targets are being missed by the majority of countries, meaning that warming of more than 3C is probable by the end of this century,” he said. “However successful we are with decarbonisation, we will face decades of unavoidable climate change and disruption. Preparing today is essential if we are to limit the impacts of climate change on society.”

His comments were echoed by Dr Sally Uren, chief executive at Forum for the Future, who said the analysis provided “a wake-up call for the cotton industry, on which much of the apparel sector is currently hugely reliant”.

“Investing in climate justice and socio-economic resilience must be at the heart of the cotton sector’s efforts,” she said. “Now is the time to proactively plant the seeds for the deep transformation needed to stay below 1.5C and deliver a just, regenerative and resilient global cotton industry.”

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