Broken Promises or a Bright Future? A COP 28 Reflection


The ambition of most slow fashion activists is to find a seat at some of the most influential tables in the world. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28), which took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at the end of last year, boasted an attendance of more than 70,000 delegates. 

An assemblage of global change-makers, business leaders, climate scientists, journalists and member parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), joined forces to fight for change and have the necessary conversations that facilitate it. Thanks to Samata Pattinson, CEO and founder of cultural sustainability organisation, Black Pearl, the fashion industry was at the forefront of conversation this year. Since the first COP summit in 1995 till 2023, a crucial key has been missing in tackling the worst contributors of climate destruction. Although the deleterious nature of the fashion industry has long been public knowledge, it’s taken almost three decades to appropriately emphasise the dire consequences of this high-demand machine. Is this finally the turning point we’ve been waiting for? 

The time for tentativeness has long-passed as climate urgency pounds on the door of the fashion industry. With a global rise in weather extremes and a magnifying glass that continues to expose the blatant disregard of human and animal rights, citizens of the world are now standing at the foot of a mountain composed of issues previously swept under the rug. 

“Buying less clothes” simply isn’t an effective solution. Statistics show by 2023, the number of global fashion consumers is expected to grow by 38% (1.7 billion to 2.3 billion people). There is, however, a speckle of hope in this statistic. A hope that sustainability can harness this growth to mould a brighter future. 

Statistics also show that 57% of consumers are open to changing their habits of consumption to protect the environment. The luxury sector has heard this and by 2025, the sustainable fashion market is projected to represent at least 10% of the luxury fashion sector

For years, lack of transparency has been a pressing issue, facilitating greenwashing, empty promises and an enabling of unethical and unsustainable behaviour. While conversation is necessary, words without action are purposeless. The Paris Agreement came to fruition in 2015 as a plan of action to combat climate change. The harsh reality is that the five year plan pledged by 130 brands including Chanel, Burberry, PUMA and Kering to cut greenhouse gas emissions is set to fall through despite hopeful discussion. Majority of brands’ emissions increased between 2021 and 2022, proving once again that plans are meaningless without committed action. Fortunately, Levis and American Eagle have risen to the occasion, limiting planet warning to 1.5 °C or less, however, out of 130 brands, two just won’t cut it. 

“Things are changing but they’re not really changing fast enough,” stated Stella McCartney in an interview with Plant Based News. 

McCartney described COP 28 as an opportunity to communicate with world leaders and politicians in order to fight for policy change, as well as an implementation of legislation to control the world of fashion. Designer and creative director, Gabriela Hearst is renowned for her climate activism and sustainable luxury collections. When asked by the Washington Post about the intention behind her attendance at COP 28, Hearst explained, 

“It has nothing to do with me being a fashion designer. It has more to do with me being a human, and a mother.”

For Hearst, value lies within the social component of business. Presently there is an eminent calling for industry leaders that are on the ground witnessing the consequences of social and climate injustices to drive action. Activists like Gabriela Hearst have the knowledge and experience to stand in a room with political leaders and raise the alarm with tangible evidence. 

In partnership with A2 Group, COP 28 saw its first fashion show, placing a spotlight on sustainable fashion. The show featured several pieces from designers like Shantnu & Nikhil, Rami Kadi, Gelareh Designs, and luxury fashion conglomerate LVMH. With the goal of a circular economy, the COP 28 fashion show called attention to a ready-to-wear approach. As opposed to up-cycling, ready-to-wear pieces showcase the accessibility and readiness of sustainable pieces for the everyday citizen. For the fashion industry, it all boils down to transparency and evidence. In a monumental announcement, COP 28 has marked the possible end of the fossil fuel era. 

“It is a plan that is led by science. It is a balanced plan that tackles emissions, bridges the gap on adaptation, re-imagines global finance and delivers on loss and damage.” 

Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, COP 28 President. 

Such commitments however have been noted as ‘non-binding’, further ringing alarm bells for industry leaders to do all they can in order to reduce fossil fuels “according to their capacities”. Climate activist Claire Fyson shed light on the widespread view of this agreement, noting that the science supports an urgent need to step away from fossil fuels in their entirety. An urgency that will likely not be met due to the terms of the agreement. For fossil fuels to be phased out entirely there needs to be an effective alternative. 

Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals. In terms of fashion production, the scale of energy required exceeds the current capabilities of renewable energy, so while Biomass is a great alternative for some processes, in the fashion industry, it’s not effective enough. 

An NGO joint petition has called to put an end to the usage of Biomass in fashion production, clarifying the misleading claims surrounding the fossil fuel alternative. The usage of biomass is said to have detrimental impacts on the climate, ecosystem, human health, and the transition to renewable energy in Asia. There’s no doubt turning away from fossil fuels is essential, however, the ways in which this is carried out must be considered with far more caution. For this reason, the commitment outlined at COP 28 to end fossil fuels has been subject to debate. 

A defining message cuts through the chatter and demands the attention of humankind as a collective. A message of transparency, action and supporting evidence. We need scientifically backed alternatives met with the honesty of all brands, and above all, we need ACTION.

Written by Ashley Jade Callahan 


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