Queen Elizabeth II said at the opening of COP26: “It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics, but what they do for the people of tomorrow – that is statesmanship”.

As an opening statement for the Glasgow COP26 meeting, this was perfect; yet the meeting itself showed that our national leaders have decided growing their economies by continued use of hydrocarbons is more important to them. A few did not even turn up. In the end, juniors such as COP26 Chairman Alok Sharma and U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry ensured a constructive meeting.

Measurable plans


After Paris 2015, COP26 was about putting details and measurable plans on the table. A fuzzy net-zero promise decades ahead would no longer be acceptable. For the first time, the term fossil fuel was properly listed along with “unabated coal power” and “inefficient subsidies”. New stakeholders with clout emerged – youth, certainly, but also companies and investors. COP26 has brought them in and they have more knowledge than ever before, so evasive governments will feel more pressure to get into line.

Already, U.S. shareholders have been unwilling to restart the shale oil business whatever politicians wish. The U.S. did not sign up to the ban on the combustion engine by 2035, but many major states and cities did. It will be hard to sell an old style in the U.S. as the customers see areas closing access and clearly the setting of target dates has led to big investments to improve the range of electric cars and reduce their cost. Government encouragement has also seen the cost of wind and solar power drop dramatically.

What does net-zero mean for leather?


By the end of 2022, countries will have to present strengthened 2030 targets in their Nationally Determined Contributions “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal”. Those politicians treating it as a talking shop game will suffer.

Can the leather industry as a united body agree and publish our own industry climate targets? Can we define what net-zero looks like for leather and lay out a global road map with a timetable of achievable goals?

At COP26, the brilliant concept of coalitions of the willing created strong groupings on coal, methane, deforestation and the combustion engine and all of these issues are relevant to leather.

At the start of the summit, the leather industry demonstrated a major new stance in the battle to get leather properly understood by publishing a manifesto, emphasising the role of natural materials, the need for proper scientific methods and promotion of slower fashion that involves longevity, care and repair. This is a perfect platform to build on.

The next stages will be intense: a moment for action. For the first time, we have a relatively young group of dynamic leaders able to take the necessary initiatives who have already prepared our organisations to share out tasks, which will no doubt involve every national organisation, as well as all the regional and global bodies. Not one region or company (valid as those commitments are) but a global statement for leather.

There are more areas to be looked at. Business flights and automobile travel are typical examples that are end uses for leather but also used by leather executives. Areas of wide importance include regenerative agriculture, biodiversity, animal welfare and continued issues with labour mistreatment, which with modern day slave labour exists in rich and poor countries. Can this be the year we find a pathway to end the “hazardous chemicals” label that has been with leather for nearly 20 years?

We have long said that leather is one of the best materials for the planet, but our main public facing actions have been complaining of mistreatment. This moment carries the opportunity, and the necessity, to define and explain positively where we are, what we have done and where we are going in terms of getting to net-zero.

A young woman’s placard in Glasgow put it succinctly: “Dinnae Deep Fry Yer Planet” (don’t deep fry your planet). Twelve months to go and our feet are already in the fire.

Mike Redwood


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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