Global Farming and Its ‘50:50’ Moment

By Alan McClay, CEO, Better Cotton.

This article was first published by Devex on 14 June 2022.

News that the world has a “50:50” chance of exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark in the next five years is a wake-up call to the world. If you’re a cotton farmer struggling with drought in South Africa or with bollworm — which is linked to high rainfall — in Punjab, the prospect of a more erratic climate comes as unwelcome news.

As across the global agricultural landscape, the cotton industry has been investing heavily in building its climate resilience for some years now. Research into drought-tolerant breeds is continuing apace, for instance, as are tools for assessing and planning for future climate risks.

Alan McClay, CEO, Better Cotton by Jay Louvion.

Awareness is one thing, but the ability to act is another. An estimated 350 million people currently rely on cotton production for their livelihoods, half of whom face high or very high exposure to climate risk. Of these, most are smallholders, who, even if they wanted to act on climate change, lack the economic means or market incentives to do so.

Loud as the climate alarm bells ring and as much as global development agencies fret, transitioning agriculture onto a sustainable footing simply won’t happen without smallholder buy-in. As people who depend on the Earth’s productivity for their livelihoods, farmers have more incentive to steward the natural environment than anyone.

But the returns on climate-friendly agriculture need to pay clearly, quickly, and fairly. On the first two, there is an increasingly compelling case to be made. In India, for example, we have been able to show that over a season, Better Cotton Initiative farmers’ profits were 24% higher, while using a lower volume of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, than those not implementing more sustainable practices.

Compared to the vicissitudes of the market, multiyear purchasing guarantees from large buyers present a far more attractive prospect for agricultural producers looking to transition. In Brazil, for example, the U.S. commodity trader Bunge offers long-term financing to soybean producers that have robust anti-deforestation policies in place. However, opportunities for smallholders to negotiate such complex contractual arrangements is difficult, if not impossible.

The same hurdle presents itself with conventional carbon finance projects. Take carbon offsetting, for example. On paper, climate-smart farmers that promote carbon-reducing practices such as cover cropping and reducing tillage are well positioned to sell credits. Yet, proving the climate efficacy of such efforts is by no means straightforward. And, even if a farmer can, registering on a carbon credit marketplace such as Nori or even locating a relevant credit programme presents a challenge.

But imagine that wasn’t the case. Imagine, instead, a world in which development agencies, multilateral banks, finance institutions, commercial buyers, and philanthropists come together to devise funding mechanisms that meet the financing needs of small farmers — conservatively estimated at $240 billion per year.

Problem solved, right? Regrettably, no. Clear and quick as climate-positive farming returns may one day become, if they are not distributed fairly, then climate transition in agriculture is dead in the water before it gets going.

Of course, “fairness” is a subjective term. By any measure, however, ensuring it includes the 95% of farmers around the world who operate on less than 5 hectares has to be central. Likewise, guaranteeing equal access and opportunities within this grouping of some 570 million agricultural households is every bit as critical.

Gender injustice presents the starkest example. In many agricultural regions, especially in the global south, women farmers lack formal rights, such as land ownership, and struggle to access credit, training, and other key support mechanisms. This is despite exercising a significant influence over farming decisions. In India and Pakistan, for instance, the majority of cotton farm workers are female.

Producers, buyers, and other key players within the agricultural sector can and must seek ways of incorporating issues of social justice and inclusivity into their climate efforts. Without deliberative action, it simply won’t happen. Even then, our experience at Better Cotton, where we have been prioritizing gender equality for a number of years now, suggests change takes time.

Climate-positive farming is an agricultural issue, characterized by technological innovation and smart practices. It’s also a finance issue, for which a huge increase in capital investment is needed. But, at its heart, it is a justice issue. Bringing marginalized farmer groups into the fold is not only the right thing to do; it is a condition of effective climate action in agriculture.

 Modern industrial agriculture has seen yields spike. But its emphasis on high capital expenditure and fossil fuel-based inputs has also seen economic inequality and environmental damage become baked into the system. Responding to the urgent threat of climate change presents an opportunity to resolve these systemic failings.

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Takeaways from the Glasgow Climate Pact: COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach

By Alan McClay, Better Cotton, CEO

One of the clear lessons from the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26 in Glasgow is that we won’t get anywhere without working together. On the other hand, if we do manage to engage in genuine collaboration, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as imperfect as they may be, are a very powerful framework to enable better and deeper collaboration—between public, private and civil society actors—as they all steer us in the same direction. Through our climate change approach and five ambitious impact target areas, Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy to be released in December supports 11 out of the 17 SDGs. As Glasgow showed us just how urgent and imperfect the collaboration to unite against climate change is and how we need to go further, we look at how the SDG framework and the Glasgow Climate Pact is supported by the Better Cotton Strategy.

Alan McClay, Better Cotton, CEO

Three Overarching Themes from the Glasgow Climate Pact and How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy and Climate Change Approach Supports Their Objectives

Prioritising Action Now

The Glasgow Climate Pact emphasises the urgency of scaling up climate action and support, including finance, capacity-building and technology transfer, in line with the best available science. Only if we do this can we collectively enhance our capacity for adaption, strengthen our resilience and reduce our vulnerability to climate change impacts. The agreement also underlines the importance of taking into account the priorities and needs of developing countries.

How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: With the recent publication of our first-ever global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) study conducted by Anthesis Group, we already have hard data that is enabling us to develop targeted emissions reduction pathways for Better Cotton’s many diverse local contexts. Now that we have established a baseline for Better Cotton GHG emissions, we are working to embed mitigation practices more deeply into our programmes and Principles and Criteria and further refine our monitoring and reporting methods. Details on our climate change approach and mitigation target will be shared as part of our 2030 Strategy.

The Ongoing Importance of Collaboration

How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: Youth climate activists like Greta Thunberg have inspired millions of young people around the world to join their call for greater action on climate change. We have heard these calls at Better Cotton.

As we finalise our climate approach and 2030 strategy, we are leveraging our network and partnerships, but even more importantly, we are ensuring that farmers’ and farm workers’ needs are centred — particularly for women, young people, and other more vulnerable populations — through continued and enhanced dialogue. New approaches are being developed to hear directly from workers, for example, as we pilot worker voice technology in Pakistan. We’re focused on driving field-level innovations that can directly benefit these individuals, which is why we are drawing on our close to 70 field-level partners across 23 countries to design country-level action plans for both mitigation and adaptation. We are also engaging with new audiences, particularly global and national policymakers to advocate for change.

This article recognizes the important role of non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, indigenous peoples, local communities, youth, children, local and regional governments and other stakeholders, in contributing to progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

A Just Transition That Actively Involves Marginalised Groups

The introduction to the Glasgow Climate Pact underscores the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, the protection of biodiversity, and the importance of the concept of ‘climate justice’ when taking action to address climate change. Article 93 builds on that, urging Parties to actively involve Indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action.

How Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy Supports This: In a video address at the close of COP26, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres acknowledged young people, Indigenous communities, female leaders and all those leading the ‘climate action army.’ At Better Cotton, we understand that cotton farmers and their communities are at the forefront of this ‘climate action army’ and will continue to serve them first and foremost. That’s why a ‘Just Transition’ is one of the three pillars of our climate approach.

We know that the impact of climate change will disproportionately affect those who are already disadvantaged — whether due to poverty, social exclusion, discrimination or a combination of factors. Throughout 2021, we have been talking directly to farmers and farm workers in India and Pakistan to better understand the challenges that they face and develop new strategies that prioritise the concerns and voices of smallholder cotton farmers, as well as farm workers and marginalised groups in farming communities.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s climate approach, including five impact target areas, when we launch our 2030 Strategy later this year.

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Keeping 1.5 Degrees within Reach: COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach

The world has been watching as global leaders, experts and activists alike have been making their voices heard at the much-anticipated UN Climate Change Conference – COP26.

In a series of blogs throughout the event, we’ve been looking at how Better Cotton’s climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition —and what that willmean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners. As COP26 draws to a close, we are zeroing in on the mitigation pathway, taking a closer look at the impact of cotton on the climate emergency.

Keeping 1.5 Degrees Within Reach

By Kendra Park Pasztor, Better Cotton, Senior Manager of Monitoring & Evaluation

The first COP26 goal — secure global net zero by mid-century and limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels — is without a doubt the most ambitious. It’s also our only option if we want to prevent the most catastrophic climate disasters from occurring. To achieve this goal, COP26 has called on countries to commit to ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets.

What are Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Greenhouse gases or GHGs include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. Sometimes ‘carbon’ is used as shorthand for ‘GHG emissions.’ Generally, emissions are expressed in ‘carbon equivalent’ – CO2e.

At the same time, agriculture also has a central role to play in emissions reductions as forests and soil store large quantities of atmospheric carbon, and fertiliser application and power for irrigation systems are responsible for significant emissions. Recognising this, 26 nations at COP26 have already set out new commitments to create more sustainable and less polluting agricultural policies.

Understanding Better Cotton’s Contribution to Climate Change Mitigation

On average, Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

At Better Cotton, we are taking the cotton sector’s role in climate change mitigation seriously. In October of this year, we released our first report quantifying global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) of Better Cotton and comparable production. This is an important first step that is helping us set our emissions reduction target in our 2030 Strategy.

The Better Cotton GHG study, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton-licensed farmers’ cotton production.

Another piece of analysis in the study assessed emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. This data is enabling us to develop targeted emissions reduction strategies for Better Cotton’s many local contexts.

Translating Data into Action: Setting Better Cotton’s 2030 Target

Anthesis’ study provided us with valuable insights that we are using — along with the latest climate science — to set a 2030 target for Better Cotton GHG emissions reduction, aligned with the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member. Now that we have established a baseline for Better Cotton GHG emissions, we can further refine our monitoring and reporting methods moving forward.

Learn More

Register to hear Kendra speak at the session “Achieving Ambitious Corporate Targets: How Can Sustainability Standards Contribute To Landscape Sourcing Area Climate And Sustainability Programmes?” taking place on 17 November at the Making Net-zero Value Chains Possible event.

Read Alan McClay’s blog on the importance of collaboration and Chelsea Reinhardt’s blog on enabling a just transition as part of our ‘COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach’ blog series.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s climate approach, including key focus areas, when we launch Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy later this year. Find more information on our focus on GHG emissions and our recently released study with Anthesis.

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Enabling a Just Transition: COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach

After a sustained build-up and a launch that began with much fanfare and hope, the UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – has drawn to the end of its first week. In a series of blogs, we’re looking at how Better Cotton’s climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition—and what that will mean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners.

Read Alan McClay’s blog on the importance of collaboration here.

Enabling a just transition

By Chelsea Reinhardt, Better Cotton, Director of Standards and Assurance

The second COP26 goal – Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’ – underscores the stark reality that communities all around the world are already facing the effects of climate change, and those effects will only become more severe over time. As the world pushes to curb emissions, finding ways to adapt and cope with those realities will be a key focus of climate efforts moving forward.

Adaptation is already an integral part of our work at Better Cotton as well as a pillar of our new climate approach, but an equally important part of adaption will be ensuring that strategies are socially inclusive. That’s why pathway three of our approach is about enabling a just transition.

Chelsea Reinhardt, Better Cotton, Director of Standards and Assurance

What is a ‘just transition’?

A just transition puts those most affected by climate change, and least prepared to adapt, front and centre.

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 2015 Guidelines for a Just Transition, negotiated between governments, employers, and their organisations, as well as workers and their Trade Unions, established a global understanding for the term “just transition”. It describes it as a process “towards an environmentally sustainable economy, which “needs to be well managed and contribute to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty”.

What does this mean for Better Cotton?

Supporting a just transition is by design the most blue-sky area under our climate change approach. We know that further effort will go into defining this pillar, as we learn more and collaborate with partners. So far, for Better Cotton and our partners, a just transition will:

  • ensure that the shift towards climate-smart farming prioritises workers’ rights and protection;
  • enable greater access to finance and resources for farmers, farming communities and workers; and
  • understand and work to mitigate the impacts of climate migration as well as the impacts on women, youth, and other more vulnerable populations.

The impact of climate change will disproportionately affect those who are already disadvantaged – whether due to poverty, social exclusion, discrimination, or a combination of factors. These groups are often less represented in social dialogues and risk having decisions made for them rather than participating directly in shaping the transformation to a more sustainable world. For Better Cotton, a primary focus will be on supporting our smallholder cotton farmers, as well as farm workers and marginalised groups in farming communities.

For example, we know that cotton workers are already at high risk of labour violations and poor working conditions due to the seasonal and temporary nature of their work. In many regions, average temperatures will increase further during peak cotton weeding and picking seasons, and farmers suffering from reduced yields will be less able to pay living wages and provide benefits for workers.

Through the Better Cotton climate approach, we are building on our decent work production principle and diving deeper into our understanding of labour risks to develop local solutions. This will take the form of new worker feedback tools and partnerships with organisations operating within farming communities to provide workers with grievance mechanisms.

Photo Credit: BCI/Khaula Jamil Location: Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, Pakistan, 2019. Description: Farm-worker Ruksana Kausar (wife of BCI Farmer) with other women who are involved in the tree nursery project developed by Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Implementing Partner, WWF, Pakistan.

We are also putting women at the forefront of the just transition.  In many Better Cotton regions, women farmers lack formal rights, such as land ownership; however, they often have significant influence over farming decisions. Women also represent the majority of cotton farm workers in countries such as India and Pakistan. And, we know that women are even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, since they often have less access to information, resources or capital than male counterparts. Therefore, it is essential that women are involved in designing approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation and that they are active participants in key decisions around resource allocation and prioritisation.

Cotton 2040 roundtable events

Earlier this year, Cotton 2040, with partners Acclimatise and support from Laudes Foundation, authored the first-ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s, as well as a Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India.

Cotton 2040 are now inviting you to join us for three roundtable events, where Cotton 2040 and its partners will come together to future-proof the cotton sector through climate and social adaptation.

Find more details on the roundtable events and register here.


Learn more

Learn more about Better Cotton’s climate approach, including key focus areas, when we launch Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy later this year.

Read more about Better Cotton and GHG emissions here.

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Participate in Cotton 2040’s Roundtable Events to Create a Climate-Resilient Cotton Sector

Earlier this year, Cotton 2040, with partners Acclimatise and support from Laudes Foundation, authored the first-ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s, as well as a Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India. Cotton 2040 are now inviting you to join us for three roundtable events where we will dive into this data in deeper detail, sharing a geography-specific analysis of the expected impacts and implications across different cotton growing regions, seeking to understand the critical impacts for actors across the supply chain and to collectively prioritise both urgent and long-term action across the cotton sector.

Apply to participate in this series of roundtable events through November and December 2021, where Cotton 2040 and its partners will come together to future-proof the cotton sector through climate and social adaptation. The three two-hour roundtable sessions are designed to build on each other over the course of five weeks and participants are encouraged to attend all three sessions. Each session will run online twice on each date, to suit time zones across the Americas, Europe, Africa, India and South East Asia.

Learn more

Find more details on the roundtable events and register here.

  1. Roundtable 1: Thursday 11 November: Understanding the climate risks facing the cotton sector and exploring the implications for future production
  2. Roundtable 2: Tuesday 30 November: Developing a deeper understanding of the adaptation response required to build a more climate resilient cotton sector
  3. Roundtable 3: Tuesday, 14 December: Shaping a pathway towards collaborative action for a climate resilient cotton sector

Roundtable Conveners: 

  • Dhaval Negandhi, Associate Director of Climate Change, Forum for the Future
  • Erin Owain, Lead Associate – Climate and Resilience Hub, and Alastair Baglee, Director, Corporates – Climate & Resilience Hub, Willis Towers Watson
  • Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains and Livelihoods, Forum for the Future

How is Better Cotton contributing?

As part of Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ working group, Better Cotton worked with partners to develop the resources released earlier this year, particularly in setting up regional working groups to discuss how to optimise data in India and other regions. We will continue to use this research to feed into our climate strategy and prioritise areas with high climate risk.

Better Cotton looks forward to using the valuable outcomes of the Cotton 2040 Climate Change Adaptation workstream to better understand priority regions to focus on, and to identify specific climate hazards facing farmers in these areas. Better Cotton also welcomes the highly useful research in the India Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment report, which points to a strong linkage between climate change resilience and socio-economic factors such as poverty, literacy, and female work participation. This underscores the importance of a holistic approach in helping cotton farmers better adapt to climate change, and reinforces the need for Better Cotton to work closely with multiple partners on this front.

The Better Cotton Initiative is a proud member of Cotton 2040 – a cross-industry partnership that brings retailers and brands, cotton standards and industry initiatives together to align efforts in priority areas for action. Read more about Better Cotton’s collaboration with Cotton 2040:

  • Delta Framework – during 2019 and 2020, we have been working collaboratively with fellow sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes via the Cotton 2040 Impacts Alignment Working Group to align sustainability impact indicators and metrics for cotton farming systems.
  • CottonUP – an interactive guide to help brands and retailers fast track sustainable sourcing across multiple standards, the CottonUP Guide answers three big questions about sourcing sustainable cotton: why it’s important, what you need to know and do, and how to get started.

Learn more about Cotton 2040’s ‘Planning for Climate Adaptation’ workstream by visiting their microsite.

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The Importance of Collaboration: COP26 and the Better Cotton Climate Approach

By Alan McClay, Better Cotton, CEO

The UN Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP26, is finally here. The world is watching as global leaders, scientists, climate change experts, companies and civil society convene to tackle the most pressing issue of our time. Climate change is a cross-cutting theme in the Better Cotton programme, addressed through sustainable farming practices across the Better Cotton Principles & Criteria. Promoting these field practices across our 25 programme countries has helped us lay a foundation for mitigating climate change and supporting adaption at the farm-level. But in 2021, we are going further, developing an ambitious climate change approach as a part of our 2030 Strategy.

Our aim is to reduce the impact of cotton on the climate emergency. This impact has been estimated by the Carbon Trust at 220 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. With our scale and network, Better Cotton can help accelerate the transition to reduce emissions and include Better Cotton Farmers in the solution, supporting cotton farming communities to prepare, adapt and build resilience for climate change and its related impacts. Our climate approach will guide greater action under three pathways — mitigation, adaptation and ensuring a just transition — and our focus areas align with the four main goals of COP26. As COP26 kicks off, we are taking a closer look at a few of these goals and what they mean in real terms for Better Cotton Farmers and partners.

Alan McClay, Better Cotton CEO

COP26 Goal 4: Work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.

COP26 goal number four, ‘work together to deliver’, is perhaps the most critical, because finalising the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and accelerating action to tackle the climate crisis can only be achieved through effective collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society. Likewise, transforming the cotton sector is not the work of one organisation alone. Hand-in-hand with the Better Cotton community, we aim to work with every link in the supply chain, from farmer to consumer, as well as governments, civil society organisations and funders.

New approaches for collaboration

In our new climate approach, we are leveraging our network with almost 100 Strategic and Implementing Partners. We are working in the field to engage new audiences, particularly global and national policy makers and funders who are interested in investing in climate change emergency solutions. We are exploring opportunities offered by carbon markets and Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, especially in the context of smallholders. We are also working to strengthen the voices of stakeholders at farm-level, helping to empower farming communities with the right incentives and governance systems. The way farmers structure themselves into associations, working groups or organisations, for example, will be crucial to increase the adoption rates of effective mitigation practices, and to build convincing cases for enabling GHG mitigation. Ultimately, we aim to inspire, influence, and learn from actors at every level of the supply chain, because Better Cotton is not just a commodity but a movement to be shared by everyone concerned by cotton and its sustainable future.

Local solutions for global change

As COP26 is highlighting, no country is insulated from the effects of climate change, but each country’s exact climate risks and hazards are highly localised. From extreme drought in India and Pakistan to soil-borne fungus attacks in central Israel, climate change already affects farmers in Better Cotton growing regions and its effects will increase rapidly. Importantly, solutions will require global and local partnerships. Here again, collaboration will be essential.

With our new climate approach, we are developing country-level roadmaps for mitigation and adaptation informed by Cotton 2040’s analysis of climate risks across cotton growing regions. This evaluation has allowed us to understand better the projected impacts of climate change in cotton production regions, including extreme weather events, soil degradation, increased pest pressure, droughts and flooding, which will result in social impacts such as labour migration, less access to education, reduced yields and rural food insecurity. The analysis has allowed us to prioritise areas where the Better Cotton footprint is prominent and the climate change impacts are most extreme, for example: India, Pakistan and Mozambique, among others. As leaders at COP26 share their country’s unique challenges and ‘work together to deliver’, we will be listening and will work to set ambitious targets in line with COP26 outcomes.

Better Cotton Members taking action for COP26

Check out the commitments and actions from Better Cotton Members:

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Better Cotton Releases First Study on GHG Emissions

Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Demarcus Bowser Location: Burlison, Tennessee, USA. 2019. Cotton bales being transported from Brad Williams’ farm.

A new report published on 15 October 2021 has revealed the first-ever quantification of global greenhouse gas emissions of Better Cotton and comparable production. The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.

Anthesis analysed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons (2015-16 to 2017-18) and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The primary data provided by Better Cotton covered input use and types, farm sizes, production and approximate geographical locations, while some information was filled via desk research where primary data was not available.

The aims of this study were two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers. Secondly, we wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80% of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.

Results from our comparative analysis

To understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing cotton than comparable non-Better Cotton farmers, comparison data was provided by Better Cotton. Each season its partners collect and report data from farmers cultivating cotton in the same geographic areas using same or similar technologies, but who are not yet participating in the Better Cotton programme. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production was due to difference in emissions from fertiliser production. A further 28% of the difference was because of emissions from irrigation. 

On average Better Cotton production had a 19% lower emissions intensity per tonne lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

Analysis that informs Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy

We aim to make, and demonstrate, positive real-world change for the climate. This means having a baseline and measuring change over time. To help inform our forthcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, we requested a separate piece of analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton (or recognised equivalent) production constituting over 80% of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the US. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tonnes lint – equating to 2.93 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per tonne lint produced. Unsurprisingly, the largest emissions hotspot was found to be fertiliser production, which accounted for 47% of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertiliser application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.

Better Cotton’s next steps on GHG Emissions

Set a 2030 Target

  • Better Cotton will set a 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction. This will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter of which Better Cotton is a member.
  • Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within our comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.
Photo Credit: BCI/Vibhor Yadav

Take Action Towards the Target

  • Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilisers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions. Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity, i.e. GHGs emitted per tonne of cotton grown.
  • The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no/reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.
  • Galvanising collective action where it matters most will also support emissions reductions – this includes identifying hotspots, leveraging new resources and advocating for change outside Better Cotton’s direct scope (e.g. approximately 10% of Better Cotton emissions to produce cotton lint comes from ginning. If half the ginning operations were supported to transition away from fossil fuel-powered energy to renewables, Better Cotton emissions would reduce by 5%).

Photo Credit: BCI/Morgan Ferrar.

Monitor & Report Against the Target

  • Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard, which will provide guidance and credibility to Better Cotton’s emissions quantification method. We are testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help us monitor change in emissions over time.
  • The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.

Download the report below and access our recent Better Cotton Update on Measuring and Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Webinar and presentation slides to find more details from the report.

Learn more about Better Cotton’s work on Greenhouse Gas Emissions.


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Better Cotton Appears in Ecotextile News Addressing Climate Change

On 4 October 2021, Ecotextile News published “Can cotton cool climate change?”, exploring the role cotton growing plays in climate change. The article looks closely at Better Cotton’s climate strategy and draws from an interview with Lena Staafgard, COO, and Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance, to understand how we plan to impact climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Accelerating the pace of change

With Better Cotton’s recent study on GHG emissions commissioned with Anthesis and our work with Cotton 2040, we now have better information to identify the areas contributing most to emissions and which regions will be most affected by climate change. Our existing Standard and programmes implemented on-the-ground by partners and farmers across the Better Cotton network currently address these issue areas. But we need to act fast to build on what already exists to deepen our impact.






What we are looking to do really is to refine our focus and accelerate the pace of change, to have a deeper impact in those particular areas that are the big drivers of emissions.

– Chelsea Reinhardt, Director of Standards and Assurance





Collaborating across the cotton sector

The recent Cotton 2040 study shows that half of all cotton growing areas are at high risk of extreme weather conditions in the coming decades, and we have the opportunity to take action in these regions with our potential to convene relevant stakeholders. There are challenges in providing solutions that are relevant to localised conditions, so we are using our nuanced understanding of these issues and are in a position to address them with appropriate strategies through the network we have. Ensuring we bring smallholder and large farm contexts into our approach is important.





We should be able to get there, but it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to require a lot of collaboration, pulling in the technology and the knowledge we have at the large farms and finding ways of making it available at smallholder level where so much of the world’s agriculture takes place.



Lena Staafgard, COO



Better Cotton is in a position where we have the resources and network to collaborate towards change. Join our upcoming Member-Only Webinar to learn more about Better Cotton’s 2030 Strategy on Climate Change.

Read the full Ecotextile News article, “Can cotton cool climate change?”

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BCI Update on Measuring and Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Join us for an update on BCI’s work to measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. During the webinar we will share the results of global research and analysis conducted in collaboration with Anthesis. This will include insight into progress with the quantification of GHG emissions of Better Cotton production, identification of key drivers, and exploration of recommendations for reducing emissions.

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Cottoning on to Climate Change

Cotton 2040 will host a public webinar, drawing on the first ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s conducted for the Cotton 2040 initiative, to share the key findings and data from the research. The webinar aims to help participants understand how climate change is likely to impact key cotton growing regions and supply chains. The speakers will explore with producers and industry actors what these findings mean for their organisations, and what’s needed to respond to the challenge.

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