Cotton grown under the CmiA Carbon Neutral initiative takes measures to steadily reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by cotton cultivation and ginning while also compensating for residual emissions that cannot be avoided. The main avenue of compensation involves switching to cooking stoves that are significantly more efficient, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the number of trees cut down for firewood, and protecting people’s health as less smoke and noxious gases are produced. Compensation measures should also focus on emissions that are currently not preventable due to technological or organisational factors but that must be avoided in the future.
The CmiA Carbon Neutral process is special in that the greenhouse gases being emitted during cotton production are not only compensated for but also continually reduced, for example through modern technology. This was the deciding factor in the partnership with atmosfair a non-profit organisation that has many years of experience in the sector and enjoys international recognition and credibility. The Aid by Trade Foundation is also conducting a series of additional projects in support of climate-smart agriculture, jointly referred to as the climate basket. However, because their beneficial effect on the climate cannot yet be measured with sufficient accuracy, these projects will not be taken into account in calculations for CmiA Carbon Neutral cotton.
The climate crisis is one of the central issues of our time. Its effects have long been apparent, with unusual heat waves, long periods of drought, rising sea levels, and the melting of millennia-old glaciers featuring in the news unfortunately frequently. Especially many small-scale farmers in Africa and their families are already suffering from the changing climate, with their survival often under immediate threat. To be effective in this context, all measures must include an adaptation strategy as well as new mitigation procedures and technologies to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This needs to be done at municipal, state, national, and international levels.
Throughout the world, textile products are becoming increasingly relevant for the climate. Through a massive rise in global awareness—not least due to the depressingly rapid pace of climate change and to the recent activism of a young, international climate movement—a product’s CO2 footprint is also becoming a significant factor in purchasing decisions; there are parallels to the twenty-year trend towards organic food. The global textile industry has taken note. Companies have set climate goals and are now searching for ways to meet them. A key lever can already be found in the choice of raw material. Cotton’s CO2 footprint plays a crucial role here because emissions can be assessed from the cultivation through the ginning stage, therefore presenting a good starting point for climate protection measures in the value chain.
For many companies in the textile sector, a climate-friendly supply chain is right at the top of the agenda.
While the global agricultural sector is responsible for around one third of global emissions (including 17 percent through direct emissions and 7 to 14 percent through changes to land use)1 , cotton production only accounts for between 0.3 and 1 percent2. At first glance, that may not sound like much. However, it is actually a lot when we consider that this only includes cotton in its raw form. By comparison, all the air traffic in the world creates around 1.9 percent3 of total greenhouse gas emissions.
With CmiA Carbon Neutral, the Aid by Trade Foundation offers climate-conscious cotton that not only compensates for emissions (from the field through to the ginnery) but also reduces emissions step by step. This might involve powering ginneries with solar arrays, thereby allowing the conventional mix of power sources to be replaced with renewable energy, if necessary in combination with diesel generators for temporary use. The project is built on a holistic strategy that takes great care to ensure that CmiA farmers and their families have a voice and that each individual measure has a positive impact on the target group.
CmiA Carbon Neutral also makes a key contribution to decarbonising the entire cotton supply chain. This ensures that CO2 neutrality becomes more than an abstract political goal, instead being gradually implemented throughout the cotton value chain and in the clothing and textile sectors in order to ultimately play a decisive role in the economy.
CmiA places great importance on its goal of protecting the environment, creating transparency in the textile supply chain, and promoting decent living and working conditions for cotton farmers and for factory workers in cotton ginneries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its approach is based on the principle of providing help for self-help through trade. A key priority for AbTF is enabling small-scale farmers to cultivate cotton in accordance with CmiA criteria, improve their own living conditions and those of their families, and protect the Earth’s natural resources.
The CO2 footprint of cotton accounts for direct emissions, which are created by cultivating and ginning cotton—the precise areas covered by the Cotton made in Africa standard. A significantly greater share of cotton’s CO2 footprint is composed of indirect emissions, which arise when cotton fibres are processed into textile products.
Direct emissions4 are easy to locate and reduce, for example by switching out resources or processes. For instance, the energy needs of ginneries can be met by partially replacing coal, oil, and gas with renewable energy (for heating and power). Heavy equipment or vehicles used for field-to-ginnery transport could also offer opportunities for using renewable energy to significantly lower or compensate for CO2 production. Long-term solutions may arrive in the guise of pyrolysis procedures, which could bind plant carbons to carbons in soils, improve soil structure, and increase water storage capacities. This could bring additional benefits for small-scale farmers and their farms.
The CmiA seal stands for a holistic, sustainable approach, meaning that social, ecological, and economic sustainability are all equally relevant. CmiA Carbon Neutral is built on this principle.
Key priorities for CmiA Carbon Neutral are
The CmiA Carbon Neutral strategy consists of two components: one reduction module and one compensation module that also addresses the individual needs of CmiA farmers. CmiA cotton emissions arise from (inevitable) field emissions, fertiliser production, field clearance, work in the fields (agricultural vehicles), and power production for ginneries. Areas of cotton production in which the CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced should gradually transition to renewable energy, for example in the ginning process or through climate-smart agricultural practices.
As an interim solution, until all processes have been decarbonised, the remaining greenhouse gas emissions will be offset by certificates issued for the reduction of CO2 emissions. These certificates are generated through the most effective and credible activities and are guaranteed by the Clean Development Mechanism of the UNFCCC and the Gold Standard certification systems.
1 OECD (2016) – “OECD Meeting of Agriculture Ministers, Background Note”. Published online at oecd.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://www.oecd.org/agriculture/ministerial/background/notes/4_background_note.pdf [Online Resource]
2 The International Trade Centre (ITC) (2011)- “COTTON AND CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS AND OPTIONS TO MITIGATE AND ADAPT”. Published online at intracen.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://www.intracen.org/cotton-and-climate-change.pdf/#:~:text=Impact%20of%20cotton%20production%20on%20climate%20change,-Cotton%20production%20is&text=Cotton%20production%20contributes%20to%20between,extreme%20weather%20events%20and%20flooding.’ [Online Resource]
3 Graver, B., Zhang, K., & Rutherford, D. (2019). CO2 emissions from commercial aviation, 2018. The International Council of Clean Transportation.
4As a rule, carbon absorption is not taken into consideration when assessing the carbon footprint of cotton because absorption is negligible due to the relative lack of durability of cotton products.