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‘We Are All Wearing Oil:’ Campaign Calls for Fair Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels from Fashion

An impressive panel of activists, climate and human rights leaders launched a campaign at Climate Week NYC calling for prompt, radical, legislative action to break the fashion industry’s intrinsic links to fossil fuels.

On Tuesday, the Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign launched at Climate Week NYC with an expert-led panel discussion on the urgent need to extricate fashion from its dependence on fossil fuels.

Even though fashion tops several lists in terms of negative impacts — it is estimated to be the third-most-polluting industry, after food and construction; and it's responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions per year, more than shipping and aviation combined — fashion’s climate impacts are traditionally under-represented during key climate negotiations. The Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign seeks to ensure the industry does not continue to fly under the radar in the wider call for an equitable and just phase-out of fossil fuels.

The event, hosted by The Rockefeller Brothers Fund at New York City's iconic Morgan Library, featured a discussion by Ugandan climate-justice activist, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Vanessa Nakate; Eco-Age founder Livia Firth MBE and Policy Director George Harding-Rolls; Harjeet Singh, Global Engagement Director to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative; Rachel Kitchin, Corporate Climate Campaigner at; and Cameren Bullins, Program Associate for Democratic Practice-Global Challenges and Sustainable Development at The Rockefeller Brothers Fund — in front of a full audience comprising business leaders, civil society, philanthropists, UN delegates, climate activists and key fashion industry figures — on fashion’s over-reliance on fossil fuels.

Built on more than three years of investigations and research by the campaign’s partners — including, Plastic Soup Foundation and the Geneva Centre for Business and Human Rights — the Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign highlights the intrinsic link between Big Oil and the fashion industry; and the direct correlation between the growth of fast fashion and its reliance on synthetic, fossil-fuel-derived fibers.

“More than any other industry, fashion drives and thrives off the inequality between the Global North and the Global South,” Nakate asserted. “While fashion companies grow rich on a fast-fashion business model fed by fossil fuels, they dump their waste and pollution on countries in the Global South least equipped to deal with it. A fast, fair phase-out of fossil fuels from fashion is critical for climate justice.”

The Fossil Fuel Fashion campaign panel at Climate Week is the first in a planned series of activations by the campaign coalition — which will include activities in Brussels, COP28 and the World Economic Forum in Davos. The goal is to leverage the combined power of policy interventions, innovations and business solutions, and grassroots campaigning to drive a phase-out of fossil fuels from fashion.

L-R: Rachel Kitchin, Harjeet Singh, Livia Firth, Cameren Bullins, George Harding-Rolls and Vanessa Nakate | Image courtesy of Getty Images

The campaign calls for prompt, radical legislative action to stem overproduction in the fashion industry and decouple it from fossil fuels with three calls to action:

  • an equitable phase-out of fossil-fuel-based materials

  • a commitment to science-based climate targets

  • open support of systemic legislative action.

Synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon, derived from oil and gas, will account for 73 percent of fiber production by 2030. While fashion innovators are consistently developing new, plant-based and circular alternatives to these ubiquitous textiles, along with other plastics, they still represent a significant revenue stream for the fossil fuel industry — giving it ongoing license to operate in a world needing to rapidly decarbonize.

Commenting on the campaign, Dr Johan Rockström — eminent environmental scientist and Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research — said: “The fashion industry, with its global reach, is intrinsically connected to numerous environmental and socioeconomic issues — encompassing resource extraction, international trade, human rights, agriculture, consumer behavior, geopolitics and environmental pollution. Our research shows six of the nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed; and anthropogenic activities are a key driver of this. As a sector, fashion is closely linked to exceeding planetary boundaries in several ways — an influence which can no longer be overlooked or underestimated.”