According to Talha Khan, executive director at the Pakistan Environment Trust, convening a national net-zero commission, where the coalition could get leading companies in the textile industry to commit to net-zero targets, was a necessary step to combat climate change.
“Since we started Net Zero Pakistan six months ago, we’ve got 22 of the leading companies in Pakistan as our members, and they contribute around 50 to 70 per cent of the textile exports from the country,” Khan said during the recent Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen.
According to Khan, the textile industry employs around 40 per cent of the country’s workforce, and contributes around 6 to 7 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
He cited a recent study by McKinsey that took a snapshot of the 70 top countries in the world that contributed around 90 to 95 per cent of the world’s GDP. It was quite clear from the report that Pakistan is one of the most affected countries in terms of climate change, and that it stands to lose out in the world order if it does not join the net-zero bandwagon.
“For example, if the cotton industry in Pakistan is still producing cotton in a traditional way, as the world moves towards net-zero goals, Pakistan’s role in the global supply chain could be cut out completely,” Khan noted.
Lives at stake
Khan feels it’s time for the textile industry to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and that it is imperative for the country’s leadership to grasp this simple fact.
“Fifteen to 20 million jobs in Pakistan are at risk if companies do not get into the net-zero arena, across all sectors, and that’s just to give a sense of the problem at hand,” he stressed.
In his opinion, Pakistan will need to contribute around $60 to $70 billion per year to fundamentally shift its economy to meet these net-zero goals, in order to move away from fossil fuels and make its manufacturing sector carbon neutral.
“The world needs to spend at least $9 trillion per annum to fundamentally change the way things work to reach net-zero ambitions. That is roughly a hundred times of what Pakistan has to do to meet these net-zero obligations.”
Khan feels that it is a huge opportunity for countries like Pakistan to make these problems their own, and create programs and platforms through which they can mobilise capital in order to show the impact being delivered on the ground.
The Net Zero Pakistan initiative has five pillars: the roadmap, catalytic finance, policy, capacity building and branding. In terms of the roadmap, the initiative has sectoral level pathways that will enable Pakistan’s private sector to achieve net-zero goals by 2050.
Its catalytic finance will focus on access to international climate finance to undertake large-scale sustainable development projects.
“We aim to mobilise $1 billion in the next three to five years for decarbonisation, through biomass, industrial solar, organic cotton, water treatment and recycling,” Khan explained.
The initiative is engaging with the government on a policy level to support policies and alternatives that enable net-zero transition. There is also capacity building to enable climate change action through workshops, training and knowledge sharing.
“Essentially, we are building the capacity for companies in Pakistan to measure greenhouse gas emissions, set their science-based targets and disclose their numbers in a transparent manner too,” he noted.
Branding is a critical component of the initiative as a unified approach is needed to demonstrate sustainability credentials at local and global levels in order to reshape the narrative around the textile industry.
Ebru Debbag, executive director of global sales and marketing at denim manufacturer Soorty Enterprises, reiterated the importance of Pakistan as a global player in the textile industry.
“Pakistan is one of the biggest exporters of textiles in the world, and is one of the top five cotton producers in the world, and we are talking about scale, the textile industry is expected to grow, with exports reaching $20 billion by the end of 2022,” she added.
She said that the Pakistan textile industry has been engaging with sustainability, not merely because of choice, but out of necessity to mitigate the challenges of climate impact.
“The supply chain is vertical, from the field all the way to the end product. This is a profound case for track and trace, so for brands that are engaged in decarbonisation, this makes a perfect case for traceability solutions,” she said.
One example is Soorty Enterprises’ organic cotton initiative, which is done in conjunction with WWF, Organic Cotton Accelerator and monitored by Control Union.
“We are giving agriculture funding and crop insurance to farmers, trying to make sure farmers get the premium that they need on the ground. We are also integrating blockchain technology and traceability to ensure we can deliver our promise to consumers,” she said.
It’s all about scale
According to Debbag, In Pakistan, when a pilot is successful, it scales very fast, and it can be adopted throughout the supply chain.
“We are talking about scale. Pakistan’s energy agency is promoting the use of alternative energy, green energy, and the target is to reach 61 per cent by 2030 in terms of the national mix of energy generation,” she said.
Kurt Kipka, chief impact officer at the Apparel Impact Institute, also agreed that the advent of science-based standards have brought about brands to rally behind key case studies and insights that can be replicated across Pakistan and the region.
“It’s about developing a commitment from organisations that are buying from these manufacturers to commit long term, put the orders in place and commit to a sustainable strategy,” he said.
He feels that as long as organisations are buying materials from manufacturers who have science-based targets, that is a logical move towards decarbonisation that can be adopted across a brand’s whole product portfolio.
“These case studies will be important for shared learnings, shared investments, and also from an industry level, on what works, from Tier 1 to Tier 4 suppliers, that can be extrapolated on a global basis,” he said.
Brooke Roberts-Islam, a senior contributor from Forbes, said that it’s important to look at this this decarbonisation journey from a brand’s point of view.
“So many brands are setting science-based targets and are in the midst of setting ambitious environmental targets, and while they are doing it because it’s imperative, they don’t really have a full-fledged strategy to achieve it,” she said.
She feels that with Net Zero Pakistan, there is an opportunity for companies to source from a sector that has set these goals, a methodology to get the data, the ability to capture it and the capability present it to demonstrate impact reduction on the environment.
“This is a real need that brands have, and it can solve a tremendous problem that they have, so the tip is to approach brands with that knowledge,” Roberts-Islam said.
From her perspective, brands have always historically outsourced their production lines and not owned their means of supply. Depending on how you look at it these days, there is a form of regression or progression in this aspect.
“In order for brands to make their marketing statements, it is no longer enough to own that last part of the value chain, it’s important if you really want to comply, you need to be part of an initiative that has a methodology to facilitate environmental impact reduction,” she said.
A tough nut to crack
From an executive perspective, the risks associated with not sourcing from resilient supply chains that can deliver on social and sustainability metrics are high in the intense regulatory framework that companies now find themselves in.
“It’s actually a very smart business decision to source materials from a sector that has in-built resilience, and has infrastructure in place to deal with all the challenges that are coming,” Roberts-Islam said. “Basically, brands want to live out their expectations in terms of environmental impact reduction.”
Khan feels that when it comes to environmental policy, it’s a difficult proposition in developing countries. He feels that the economic context is very complex, as there are many other factors in terms of economics that trump climate indicators.
“One hope is that by getting more companies with economic clout, under one platform, eventually you can get brands engaged, and that gives us the leverage to influence policy, change how things are done by linking it to export numbers and the impact they are driving.”
Ultimately, he feels that the real challenge is to build a link between economics and climate impact, and that is a ‘tough nut to crack’.
“To be honest, if that can be done, there will be an appetite to make policy changes,” he concluded.