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Natural Fur: delivering on the COP26 agenda, part of the climate change solution

Frank Zilberkweit

Frank Zilberkweit

4 min read Partner content

Ideology cannot get in the way of fighting climate change. If we're serious about achieving our Net Zero goals, then humanely produced natural fur must be considered part of the solution.

We need to reach net zero by the middle of the century: we recognise that this requires ambitious emission reductions targets now — because the climate is changing now. It is the greatest risk facing all of us; just as individual countries can and will contribute to the solution, individual sectors and industries must play their part. Sustainable, humanely produced, natural fur is part of the solution.

Fashion, one of the world’s largest manufacturing industries but biggest polluters, must play a major role in delivering on COP26. Fashion is currently responsible for an estimated 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, an annual material loss of US $100 billion due to underutilisation, and around 215 trillion litres of water per year.

Therefore, fashion, as it is currently constituted, is not in crisis — it is the crisis. The model has to change at its very roots; this starts with the materials we use to create products. Natural, animal-derived fibres such as fur, leather, silk, and wool represent one of the key solutions to the ‘fast fashion’ crisis.

Efforts to adapt to the impact of climate change are urgently required; the global fur sector has launched an ambitious programme and a clear direction of travel for the sector and wider supply chain around animal welfare, environmental protection and for the people and communities that work in the sector. Natural fur is therefore already delivering on the agenda of COP26 and is why we were in Glasgow this week meeting government delegations, highlighting such benefits. 

Natural fibres provide a viable, biodegradable alternative to those synthetic materials associated with landfill, microplastics, overconsumption, and pollution. Fur products are long-lasting and made to a circular, rather than a linear, model, in which products can be reused and remodelled.

Fur lasts decades: the average lifespan for a synthetic product can be measured in months. That circularity represents a shift away from a “take-make-dispose” linear process across the textile value chain and ensures that we reduce the carbon footprint per year of use for our products. Natural fur is one of the materials that epitomises the ‘slow fashion’ movement.

Natural, animal-derived fibres such as fur, leather, silk, and wool represent one of the key solutions to the ‘fast fashion’ crisis

Incorporated within this progress, are many examples of the fur sector delivering positive change. Furmark®, a global animal welfare and environmental certification and traceability system that launched earlier this year, has clear environmental objectives that are compatible with increasing regulatory and consumer demands. This includes, for example the introduction of a chemical standard at the tannery level, developed with and assessed by accredited independent experts.

The fur sector is also delivering on those COP26 priorities around sustainable communities and habitats and recognises that many small, often indigenous communities have a long-standing, symbiotic relationship with their natural environment. Wild fur comes from carefully managed and abundant wild furbearer populations throughout North America and Eurasia and provides local communities with a surplus that can be taken without negatively impacting long-term viability or the habitat itself.

The sale of wild fur not only provides vital income for remote and indigenous communities but also helps manage the ecosystem. Fur therefore allows many indigenous communities to carry out their traditional way of life while providing for their families in some of the harshest climates on Earth.

While COP26 mobilises public finance to develop climate-resilient infrastructure and private finance to fund technology and innovation, we have to remember that consumer consumption is, directly and indirectly, driving emissions: incentives can and should change behaviours. COP26 delegates have a range of policies at their disposal that, if enacted, would bring an immediate boost to businesses already creating, repairing, and remodelling natural, sustainable products and would incentivise others to adopt these biodegradable materials.

These policies include making reuse, repair, and remodel garment services tax-exempt; reducing consumption taxes on natural products; improving labelling to cover the carbon footprint of the product; and introducing transparency obligations around product end-of-life and the true ‘cost’ of the garment.

Finally, there are those who are seeking to ban the use or sale of natural fur here in the UK. If enacted, this would be a spectacular own goal, simply increasing consumption of synthetic materials whilst damaging thousands of jobs and businesses in this country, and indigenous communities and pristine habitats abroad.

Sadly, those making such calls choose to ignore such damaging consequences. The Government should acknowledge the role that natural fibres have to play in meeting our ambitious climate targets. To do otherwise would send a clear message that this Government was not serious about delivering on its obligations to COP26.

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