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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Better Cotton Releases Our 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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