Cotton growing regions to face severe climate risks by 2040

■ 45% of India’s cotton growing regions are projected to experience a decrease in the length.
■ 50% of cotton growing regions will be at risk of increased extreme rainfall events.
■ 30% of cotton will be exposed to risk from storms.


New Delhi, Jun 23 (Mayank Nigam) The first ever global analysis of climate risks to global cotton production reveals that runaway climate change could expose half of all global cotton growing regions to high risks from temperature increases, changes to rainfall patterns and extreme weather events by 2040. Titled “Adapting to climate change – physical risk assessment for global cotton production”, the analysis was commissioned by the Cotton 2040 initiative, which is facilitated by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation.

The analysis was conducted by Cotton 2040 partner and climate-risk specialists Acclimatise, part of Willis Towers Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub. Under a worst-case climate scenario, the analysis highlights that all global cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040. While this increase ranges from very low to very high risk, half of the world’s cotton growing regions will face drastic changes with high or very high-risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. The global findings are supplemented by a first of its kind in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities (CRVA) across India’s cotton value chain. Key findings on India’s cotton production, as highlighted in the global analysis, include: All Indian cotton will be exposed to heat stress (defined as temperatures above 40°C) by 2040, with this risk having increased relative to present day across all cotton growing regions. Reduced length of growing seasons – around 45% of India’s cotton growing regions are projected to experience a decrease in the length of the growing seasons as temperatures increase beyond the optimum temperature range for cotton growing. 50% of cotton growing regions will be at risk of increased extreme rainfall events. Half of Indian cotton growing regions are at high or very high risk from long-term drought by 2040, adding extra pressure to a fibre already under scrutiny for its water footprint and affecting yields and potentially threatening to cause conflict and societal unrest.

All Indian cotton growing regions will be exposed to risk from damaging wind speeds, 30% of cotton will be exposed to risk from storms, while all cotton will face risk from wildfires. Around 40% of regions are at increased risk from landslides, with fluvial flooding projected to affect around 35% of regions, and some north-western regions of India seeing an increased risk of coastal flooding. The study further reveals that all of the world’s cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040. The five other highest cotton producing countries – China, USA, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are also all exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall. The highest climate risk overall is projected for two regions of the world; north western Africa, including northern Sudan and Egypt, and western and southern Asia. Sally Uren, Chief Executive, Forum for the Future, said, “The apparel sector is currently hugely reliant on Indian cotton and this analysis is a wake-up call for the wider cotton industry.

In order to build the sector’s climate resilience, the widespread shifts to sustainable forms of cotton production must be bolstered by ambitious and aligned action to reduce carbon emissions, while also investing in socio-economic resilience across issues such as literacy, gender, digital access and access to finance.” Alastair Baglee, Director, Corporates – Climate & Resilience Hub, Willis Tower Watson, said, “As it stands, emission reduction commitments and targets are being missed by the majority of countries, including India, meaning that warming of more than 3°C is probable by the end of this century. However successful we are with decarbonisation: we will face decades of unavoidable climate change and disruption. Preparing today is essential if we are to limit the impacts of climate change on society.” Cotton makes up about 31% of all raw material used in the global textile market with a yearly economic impact of over $600 billion. India is the highest cotton producing country globally, engaging around 60 million people directly or indirectly in its cotton value chain, with about 40 to 50 millions of people employed in cotton trade and its processing. The majority of Indian cotton is grown on small farms of less than 1 ha[4]. The CRVA study focused on cotton cultivation and cotton processing in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Telangana, three of India’s major cotton growing states. “Climate change impacts not just cotton but also the inter-connected agriculture system, and related supply chains. In order to mitigate these risks we need to catalyse sector-wide dialogue for proactive changes. Our partnership with Cotton 2040, accelerates this opportunity”, said Anita Chester, Head of Materials, Laudes Foundation. Phil Townsend, Senior Technical Manager – Environmental Sustainability, Primark, said, “Primark is working hard to scale up its Sustainable Cotton Programme and to accelerate decarbonisation across our supply chain.

However, we recognise we need to work with the industry to drive collective action on climate adaptation – while ensuring that cotton producers and their communities don’t get left behind. The new data from Cotton 2040 helps us all to understand the climate risks to our supply chains and develop responsible responses.” “Investing in climate justice and socio-economic resilience must be at the heart of the cotton sector’s efforts”, said Dr Uren. “Now is the time to proactively plant the seeds for the deep transformation needed to stay below 1.5°C and deliver a just, regenerative and resilient global cotton industry.” This study provides a high level analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s under a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5, equivalent to 4.3°C warming by 2081-2100)[5]. This is done by using the latest, internationally recognised, climate projections from an ensemble of global circulation models to capture an array of projected climate hazards. These hazards are specifically tailored to cotton’s key climate sensitivities and thresholds based on thorough literature review and expert advice. Relative risk scores have been produced for each climate hazard, identifying cotton growing regions which are exposed to very low to very high climate risk relative. The climate indicators and climate-related hazards covered were: length of the cotton growing season (effective growing degree days); heat stress; total rainfall during the cotton growing season; extreme rainfall events; long-term drought; short-term drought; fluvial flooding; coastal flooding; damaging winds; storms; wildfire; and landslides. This study provides an in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. It focuses up to the pre-garment stage by considering climate risks to rural, agricultural communities at the cotton production stage, and by considering climate risks to urban, manufacturing communities at the cotton processing stage.

The analysis was done by using the latest methodology for assessing climate risk as set out by the International Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), and using the latest, internationally-recognised climate projections from an ensemble of global circulation models to capture an array of various climate hazards projected for the 2040s under a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5). Socio-economic data were gathered from the latest, most reliable data source. A total of 13 districts were selected across three states; Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana, and relative climate risk scores were developed. Sandhya Kranthi, Project Consultant, International Cotton Advisory Council (ICAC), said: “Climate change has the strongest impact on rainfed cotton production. The rainfed cotton area in India is the largest in the world, as is the number of cotton farmers that cultivate cotton under rainfed conditions. Any aberration in climate would impact a change in their livelihoods, that India can ill afford.” Allan Williams General Manager for R&D Investment at the Australian Cotton Research & Development Corporation, said: “Cotton growers around the globe are already feeling the impacts of climate change, with direct effects on cotton production, and knock-on effects for the wider cotton value chain. For many, the future looks uncertain. Creating a cotton sector in which people and planet can thrive will require collective, responsible action to drive climate adaptation. But it must happen in a way that ensures that cotton producers and their communities don’t get left behind.” Holly Browne, Principal Consultant in the Sustainable Apparel team at Anthesis Group, said: “Despite being one of the world’s leading commodities, the Cotton 2040 report reveals how unprepared the cotton industry is to react to a changing climate. To implement sustainable performance, it is imperative to unite the cotton sector and drive collective action in order to achieve climate goals which work to reduce emissions, fast. Anthesis is determined to deliver change in the apparel industry by using this report to support clients in understanding their exposure to these climate risks, and drive sustainable impact across resilient supply chains.” Simon Ferrigno, author of the Inside Guide to Cotton and Sustainability 2020, said: “Addressing climate change and mitigating its impact on cotton, as this report shows, will not only help the industry meet its climate targets but will also avoid the potentially enormous impact on those who work in the cotton industry, which can also exacerbate global instability. Investing in addressing climate change urgently is a no-brainer for businesses who need dependable supplies of raw material, and for governments who surely do not want more unplanned disruptions to the global economy.”