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World's Largest Fashion Sustainability Summit to Drive Responsible Innovation
More than a thousand experts, NGOs, opinion makers, media and politicians gather Thursday for the Copenhagen Fashion Summit—the world's largest event on sustainability in fashion. Jonas Eder-Hansen is development director at the Danish Fashion Institute and organizer of the summit. We asked him some questions about the big event and the state and future of sustainability in fashion.
Q. This is the fourth Copenhagen Fashion Summit. What is special about this one?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: We have come a very long way! We have a lot more decision-makers among the participants now and they come from very different positions in fashion companies, representing everything from design and material sourcing to sales and marketing. International participants are up from around 40 percent in 2014 to more than 60 percent this time. In short, I think the summit finally has been able to attract more from the "mainstream" fashion community, not just the sustainability experts.
Q. This year's theme at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit is "responsible innovation." What does that concept mean to you?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: We work in one of the world's largest industries but also one of the most resource-intensive. As an industry we have to develop new business models and solutions that can solve the massive challenges we face. The world needs innovators who can lead the push towards a more sustainable economy. The fashion industry has the potential to be one such innovator, working proactively to address critical environmental, social and ethical challenges on a global scale.
Q. Many fast fashion representatives are attending the summit such as H&M, Adidas and Diesel. How can these big companies become more sustainable when their business models depend on people buying more clothes more frequently?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: The large brands and retailers are built on a linear economy in which we extract, process, consume and dispose. This is the foundation of modern society not just the fashion industry. It cannot change overnight, but the fashion industry is definitely moving towards a more circular economy. H&M's vision, for example, is 100 percent circularity. In 2015, some 1.3 million of its clothing were made with closed loop material—more than 300 percent compared to 2014. A company like H&M is well aware of the challenges and are committed to use its size and scale to become fully circular.
Q. So is the fashion industry, in general, ready to take a leap into a circular economy?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: We have to! According to studies from Ellen MacArthur Foundation there even is a major business opportunity here. Many brands and retailers are testing various take-back models and investing in recycling technologies, while governments and local authorities are piloting voluntary extended producer responsibility schemes. We are still far from a perfect solution, but the right actors are giving it so much attention that I really think we can succeed.
Q. One of the most inspirational speeches from last summit was Vanessa Friedman's presentation of the idea "sustainable wardrobe" in which we carefully select clothes that will stay with us for a long time. What are your thoughts on this? Is a sustainable wardrobe irreconcilable with the prosperity of the fashion industry?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: Not at all—I think there are a lot of companies already focused on craftsmanship, quality and sustainability who at the same time sell their products at a premium and have a very healthy revenue model. Yet, much more can be done from the industry to engage in a dialogue with consumers about the wear and care of their garments. This could lead to increased customer loyalty and brand building for companies. From a consumer perspective, we have probably become a bit too lazy to think about how we care for our clothes in a smarter way, such as washing in cold water, line drying instead of tumble drying etc. I think consumers could learn more about "wardrobe stewardship" to make their garments last longer.
Q. The Danish minister for foreign affairs is on the guest list for the summit along with other political figures. What role do politicians play in making the fashion industry more sustainable?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: There is so much governments can do. A few examples include: 1. integration of sustainable fashion curriculum into primary, secondary, university and vocational education and research, 2. standardization of product transparency disclosures and driving of consolidation of ecolabel(s) for fashion products and 3. exploration and testing of economic incentives (such as tariffs, deposits, etc.) to internalize social and environmental costs of consumption and production.
Q. What do you want people to take home with them after the summit?
Jonas Eder-Hansen: That we are on the right track towards a more sustainable fashion industry and that Copenhagen is the central place to discuss ambitions and visions for how we get there quicker.
Copenhagen Fashion Summit takes place May 12 at the Copenhagen Concert Hall with speakers such as H&M's Head of Sustainability Anna Gedda, founder & creative director at Eco Age Ltd. Livia Firth and EU commissioner for industry, Elzbieta Bienkowska. Learn more on copenhagenfashionsummit.com and follow the event on the summit's Facebook page.
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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
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Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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