Large swathes of apparel-producing areas in Asia will be underwater by 2030, shows a recent analysis, which overlaid maps of rising sea levels on to factory locations. It found that the rising levels are threatening thousands of suppliers with submersion unless they relocate to higher ground.
The analysis, produced by two Cornell researchers as part of a paper commissioned by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), warns that the problem of rising sea levels is receiving little attention from those leading sustainability efforts in the sector.
"Rapid increases in sea level rise and heat that will affect many of Asia's apparel workers directly have received little attention," authors Jason Judd and J. Lowell Jackson of Cornell research center the New Conversations Project wrote.
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"It appears some of apparel's production centers representing a significant percentage of current output will not escape the projected acceleration of the climate crisis."
While larger, trans-national suppliers may be able to shut down facilities in vulnerable areas and consolidate production on higher ground, smaller-scale suppliers will be most impacted, the paper's authors said, highlighting the example of Bangladesh - the second-largest apparel exporter.
"We're worried. This is a real threat. More and more factories are going greener. Still our factories could go underwater," Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said of the findings.
"But we can't move our factories to a higher location overnight. We are already passing through an unprecedented time due to the pandemic. Where will we get money? Who will pay us?"
The analysis, which covered Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Tirippur, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Columbo, and Ho Chi Minh City, overlaid a map of factory locations from open-source factory database the Open Apparel Registry onto data from US climate change think-tank Climate Central on where elevation will fall below the level of a coastal flood on average once per year by 2030.
Climate Central's data is based on projections from global datasets published in peer-reviewed science journals, according to its website.
The overlaid maps paint the gravest picture in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Guangzhou, China, where an estimated 50-60% of factories will be below the level of the average annual coastal flood by the end of the decade.
"This calls for urgent action at the global level to both reduce emissions to limit warming while also providing funding for the workers to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change," Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at Independent University, Bangladesh, said of the findings.