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What BCI Study Uncovered About Better Cotton’s Emissions

A new report from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) quantifying global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of Better Cotton and comparable output found significantly lower emissions from Better Cotton licensed farmers’ cotton production.

The report, conducted by Anthesis Group and commissioned by Better Cotton in 2021, analyzed more than 200,000 farm assessments from three seasons, 2015-16 to 2017-18, and used the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG emissions calculation engine. The study found that on average Better Cotton production had a 19 percent lower emissions intensity per ton lint than comparison production across China, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkey.

Over half of the difference in emissions performance between Better Cotton and comparison production stemmed from fertilizer production’s emissions. Another 28 percent of the difference came from emissions from irrigation.

The study aimed to understand if Better Cotton farmers have produced lower emissions while growing this crop when compared to non-Better Cotton farmers. It also wanted to quantify emissions for producers contributing 80 percent of Better Cotton global production and use this baseline to set a global emissions reductions target for 2030.

To help inform BCI’s upcoming 2030 strategy and associated global target on emissions reduction, it requested a separate analysis to assess emissions from Better Cotton or recognized equivalent production constituting over 80 percent of licensed Better Cotton’s global production across Brazil, India, Pakistan, China and the U.S. The analysis breaks down emissions drivers for each state or province per country. This will enable emissions reduction strategies across Better Cotton’s and its partners’ major production areas to implement meaningful and measurable climate change mitigation actions.

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The study found production had average annual GHG emissions of 8.74 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents to produce 2.98 million tons lint–equating to 2.93 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per ton of lint produced. The largest emissions hotspot was again found to be fertilizer production, which accounted for 47 percent of total emissions from Better Cotton production. Irrigation and fertilizer application were also found to be significant drivers of emissions.

Better Cotton said its 2030 target on GHG emissions reduction will be informed by climate science and the collective ambition of the apparel and textile sector, including notably the UNFCCC Fashion Charter, of which Better Cotton is a member. Better Cotton’s emissions target will sit within its comprehensive climate change strategy currently under development.

“Given their sizable contribution to total emissions, reductions in the use of synthetic fertilizers and irrigation can unlock significant reductions in emissions,” BCI said. “Efficiency improvements through better yields will also contribute to reducing emissions intensity. The adoption of management practices such as cover cropping, mulching, no or reduced tillage and application of organic manures offer significant opportunities to reduce emissions through carbon sequestration. These practices can simultaneously have a positive impact on conserving soil moisture and enhancing soil health.”

Better Cotton is partnering on a project led by the Gold Standard that will provide guidance and credibility to its emissions quantification method. BCI is testing the Cool Farm Tool as a scientific, credible and scalable approach to help monitor changes in emissions over time. The collection of additional data from Better Cotton farmers and projects will enable refinement of the emissions quantification process in subsequent years.