Climate Change

Climate crisis to rob $65 bn from South and Southeast Asia’s apparel exporting nations

Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Vietnam would witness their export gains slipping by 22% by 2030

By Arya Rohini
Published: Thursday 14 September 2023

recent report rung alarm bells about the potential impact of climate change on key apparel production hubs.

Major garment manufacturing countries in South and Southeast Asia may suffer a loss of $65 billion in export revenue and nearly one million new jobs by 2030, warned the document.

Though the report — released by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute (GLI) and British multinational asset management company Schroders — proposes some solutions, there’s little to comfort garment workers.

Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Vietnam — the four apparel manufacturing hubs — would witness their export gains slipping by 22 per cent by 2030, it added.

The four countries account for 18 per cent of global garment exports, house roughly 10,000 apparel and footwear units and employ 10.6 million workers.

In these countries, combined export revenues in a heat-stress scenario will be 21.9 per cent lower than in a climate-adaptive scenario by 2030 and 68.7 per cent lower ($1,424 billion) by 2050.

These numbers surge dramatically by 2050, with the “high heat and flooding” scenario potentially resulting in a 65-70 per cent shortfall in export revenues and 8-9 million fewer new jobs.

Both “climate-adaptive” and “high heat and flooding” scenarios disrupt production, reduce productivity and endanger workers’ health.

The findings of the report suggest that supply chains are not being sufficiently equipped to deal with climate hazards.

“These countries’ major production centres — Dhaka, Phnom Penh, Karachi and Lahore, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi — are already confronting extreme heat and humidity. And all these cities are also likely to experience significant flooding,” the document added.

Due to the industry’s emphasis on mitigation rather than adaptation strategies, brands, investors, or regulators are not prioritising preparedness, the report pointed out.

“Flooding and extreme heat pose a significant risk to every constituency in global apparel production — workers, manufacturers, regulators, investors and brands themselves,” Jason Judd, executive director of Cornell University’s Global Labour Institute, told media.

But no one is factoring the on-the-ground costs of climate breakdown into their planning, he added.

“The apparel industry and regulators have mostly framed their climate responses around mitigation issues — emissions, water usage, and recycled fabrics,” he said, describing how brands treat climate “loss and damage” for manufacturers and workers as someone else’s problems.

The document also explored a scenario in which little is done to limit the rise in global temperatures beyond the policy actions that have already been announced. Under this scenario, export revenues could be more than 68 per cent lower in 2050 than in 2020.

In addition to the four countries, the paper listed similar hazards in dozens of other garment production centres in the Global South, such as Port Louis in Mauritius, Bangkok in Thailand and the Dongguan-Guangdong-Shenzen regions of China.

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