Fast Fashion reliance on fossil fuels is eating up global carbon budgets and polluting our water

It turns out that recycling all those plastic water bottles into fleece isn’t enough to solve the problems of “fast fashion”.  An eye-opening report released on February 3 documents the scope of the environmental damages caused by the global fashion industry, and makes recommendations for government regulation and consumer action.

Fossil Fashion: The hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels lays out the scale of the problem:

“The global fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Research from the European Environment Agency has highlighted that textiles are the fourth largest cause of environmental pressure after food, housing and transport. The fashion industry is responsible for a significant share of global water pollution, consumes more energy than shipping and aviation combined, and by 2050 is anticipated to be responsible for 25% of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Furthermore, our clothes release half a million tonnes of microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.”….. “Without prompt and radical legislative action and a considerable slowdown, fast fashion’s quest for cheap clothing will create untenable volumes of waste and toxic microfibres, and emit more carbon than the planet can handle.”

 

The report provides detail statistics related to production, recycling, and the environmental and pollution impacts, summarized by this overview:    “Production of polyester has grown ninefold in the past 50 years, and the fibre has been widely adopted in the fashion industry as a low-cost material that allows brands to churn out a never-ending variety of cheap items ….Polyester is cheap, costing half as much per kilo as cotton, and has cemented itself as the backbone of today’s throwaway fashion model. The trends speak for themselves, with the average consumer buying 60% more clothing compared to 15 years ago, yet wearing each item of clothing half as long. Polyester’s flexibility as a material has seen it creeping into other materials too, with blends such as cotton and polyester increasingly being used, creating another set of problems when it comes to waste management. ….Recycling will not solve fast fashion’s problems, nor will it curb the exponential growth in the use of synthetic fibres. Currently, less than 1% of clothes are recycled to make new clothes, and the share of recycled polyester is declining; while it accounted for 14% in 2019, this will in fact decrease to 7.9% of overall polyester production by 2030. Furthermore, virtually all recycled polyester in clothing comes not from recycled garments, but from recycled plastic bottles.”  …. Recycling also does nothing to solve a problem both microscopic and enormous: microfibres. These tiny fragments of plastic shed from our clothes when we wash them, wear them or throw them out, and leak into our bodies and the natural world. Microfibres are found throughout ocean ecosystems, with a recent study discovering that 73% of microfibre pollution in formerly pristine Arctic waters is from synthetic fibres that could be coming from textiles. Graver still, microplastics have even been found in the placentas of unborn babies, affecting the human body in ways that are not yet fully understood.”

The main recommendations in this report deal with environmental/sustainability/pollution regulation in the EU – coinciding with January 2021 EU consultations for a strategy “Roadmap” to “shift to a climate-neutral, circular economy where products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy-efficient” in the Covid-19 recovery.  Canada, like the EU, is mainly an importer of fast fashion, so the relevant recommendations from Fossil Fashion are those for the consumer. Relying on individual action and purchasing power, they call for people to stop compulsive shopping and buy only from brands which have made a clear and transparent commitment to sustainably sourced supply chains.  The report also calls for consumers to join in “raising awareness of the issues surrounding fast fashion, and use their voices to highlight issues such as greenwashing, exploitative practices, environmental harm and unsustainable consumption.”

Fossil Fashion was published by the Changing Markets Foundation, whose focus is  the environmental impacts of  the fashion industry. In November 2020, they also published Dirty Fashion: Crunch Time, which updates their 2018 campaign to evaluate and rank individual fashion brands.  Another advocacy group, the Clean Clothes Campaign,  collaborates with Changing Markets and focuses on human rights and working conditions in the global fashion industry. Their latest report was released in January 2021, with a focus on the EU:   Fashioning Justice: A call for mandatory and comprehensive human rights due diligence in the garment industry .

Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

Newfoundland government primes the pump with funding for offshore oil ahead of February election

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey has called a  provincial election for February  13 –and according to a CBC report, one reason for the quick timing is to get ahead of the forthcoming Interim Report of the provincially-appointed Provincial Economic Recovery Team (PERT), scheduled for late February. The PERT is also called the Greene team for its chair, Dame Moya Greene, who brings a business background, having previously been head of Britain’s Royal Mail and Canada Post, as well as positions at TD Securities, CIBC and Bombardier. Another CBC article highlights that the economic report is going to be a controversial election issue, and discusses the January withdrawal from the team by Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. Shorthall called the exercise “window dressing” , and stated: “I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision”.  Shortall’s departure is also discussed in an article in The Independent .

Another key election issue is likely to be the role of the oil and gas industry in the Newfoundland economy. The election announcement was preceded by a series of provincial funding announcements: on January 14, a government pledge of  $175 million funding as well as royalty incentives to Suncor to prop up the Terra Nova Offshore oil field; $38 million  for the Hibernia offshore project in December 2020; and $41.5 million for Husky Energy’s  White Rose project – all of which are funded by $320 million of federal funds, announced in September 2020. (Note that Husky Energy laid off workers at one of the worksites just days after the funding was announced) .

On January 12, the  Environment and Climate Change Minister issued his decisions under the Impact Assessment Act, allowing Chevron Canada, Equinor Canada, and BHP Petroleum to drill exploratory wells offshore from St. John’s – although further permits will be required, as explained in this new “Toolkit” regarding the process from the East Coast Environmental Law .  Provincial approval is likely to be forthcoming, given the pro-industry views expressed by the provincial Oil and Gas Recovery Task Force appointed in October 2020 to distribute the federal funding. Reflecting this favourable environment, Equinor announced that it is consolidating its Canadian offices and moving staff from Calgary to St. John’s, according to a Financial Post report (Jan. 12) .

81% of carbon captured to date used in Enhanced Oil Recovery according to new report

Canada’s newly-released climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy   (Dec. 2020)  states that one of the government’s objectives is to: “Develop a comprehensive carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) strategy and explore other opportunities to help keep Canada globally competitive in this growing industry.” As a  clue to where that is going, the government also states: “The broad range of compliance strategies allowed under the proposed Clean Fuel Standard will give fossil fuel suppliers the flexibility to choose the lowest cost compliance actions available. The same compliance strategies that will support the Clean Fuel Standard will also ensure Canada becomes a leader in carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrogen production, and other technologies that will allow Canada to extract energy from its resources while significantly reducing and eventually eliminating carbon pollution.”  The government is no doubt influenced by such views as those in the energy-industry Public Policy Forum, which calls for a favourable regulatory environment in Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage – The Time is Now (July 2020). (this report is mainly focused on energy industry applications but also discusses decarbonization of industrial processes briefly).

A December report commissioned and released by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Global Witness focuses only on energy industry applications, and comes to a different conclusion. A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System concludes that carbon capture and storage systems will not be as effective in reducing GHG emissions as would  ramped up renewable energy generation and  energy efficiency measures. Further, the authors state that “2030 emissions reduction targets are being set up to fail due to the huge emphasis placed on CCS.”  The authors, from the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, highlight three main barriers to success: prohibitive costs;  time to reach commercial scale;  and the residual emissions from CCS, especially methane. Canada’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan is discussed, and cited as an example of prohibitive costs, with capital costs of approximately US$455 million and a capture cost of US$100 per tonne of CO2.  The report notes that there are just 26 operational CCS plants in the world, and significant scale is not forecast until at least 2030.  And the authors state that 81% of carbon captured to date has been used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) – a process which pumps captured carbon underground to push previously unreachable fossil fuels up for extraction, extending the life of oil fields.  This contributes to the problem of CCS-linked emissions of carbon dioxide and methane .

A Review of the Role of Fossil Fuel Based Carbon Capture and Storage in the Energy System is summarized in an Executive Summary and by the Climate News Network . The International Energy Agency has released a number of reports related to CCUS , most recently Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage; CCUS in clean energy transitions.  Another source of information is the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute which maintains a database of information and advocates for CCUS adoption in its publications.  

Methane emissions in Canada- Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan finalize equivalency agreements despite new evidence of under-reporting

On November 5, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change issued a press release announcing that the federal government has finalized equivalency agreements for methane regulations from the oil and gas industry with Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, for the next five years. “These equivalency agreements represent a flexible approach that enables provinces and territories to design methane regulations that best suit their respective jurisdictions while meeting equivalent emissions-reduction outcomes to the federal regulations.” These equivalency agreements have been in the works for months, during which time  Environmental Defense Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and other groups  have lobbied for regulations to be tightened and for the reporting procedures to be improved.

These same groups were critical of the federal Emissions Reduction Fund, announced on October 29, to reduce methane and GHG emissions.  This $750-million  fund will provide “primarily repayable funding” to eligible onshore and offshore oil and gas firms to encourage them to invest in greener technologies. Details are at the government portal for the Emissions Reduction Fund . The Pembina Institute endorsed the Fund on the grounds that it could reduce emissions while improving health and creating jobs. More critical comments from Environmental Defense Canada are included in the Toronto Star report, “Justin Trudeau offers $750 million to oil and gas companies to slash methane emissions, but critics warn it isn’t enough” (Oct. 29).   

Updated: Scientific evidence shows under-reporting of methane emissions worse than thought

An interview with Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada, appeared in The Energy Mix on November 16. Marshall criticizes the Equivalency Agreements, especially in light of a new article just published in Environmental Science and Technology , the scientific journal of the American Chemical Society.  “Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories” was written by Canadian government scientists, and provides damning evidence of the problem of under-reporting . The scientific article was summarized in lay terms in the National Observer on November 12.

Canada set its regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2018, targeting a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. It appears that Canada will miss its target, with modelling showing the reduction likely to be closer to 30%. The Pembina Institute has published fact sheets on methane regulations, and the International Energy Agency posted an overview of Canada’s methane emissions regulations and levels in February 2020 here .  The dangers of methane and the problem of underreporting fugitive emissions have been summarized in a January 2020 report from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health.