African economies are among the most heavily affected by the detrimental effects of climate change such as prolonged drought periods and flooding. Mitigation of climate change and adaptation to its impacts will be vital for the continent. Sustainable production methods are not only a suitable means of adjusting to climate change – in fact, key economic sectors in Africa such as agriculture or forestry also bear a largely untapped potential for greenhouse gas emission savings. At the same time, future success of African products in the world market will decisively depend on meeting the consumers’ rising demand for sustainably produced goods and services. So far, Africa has not been able to benefit from these market opportunities. Eco-labelling is an effective market-based instrument to enhance access for African products to international markets while at the same time fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns. Permitting the selection of products and services according to specific environmental and social criteria, eco-labelling provides businesses with a way of measuring performance and communicating the environmental credentials of products. For consumers, they guide their purchasing decisions by providing information about “the world” behind the products. Governments can use eco-labels to encourage the behavioural change of producers and consumers towards long-term sustainability.
From Vision to Practice
Against this background, the Marrakech Process supports the elaboration of a 10-Year Framework of national and regional Programmes on sustainable consumption and production, amongst others for Africa. Endorsed by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), one of the priorities for the African 10-Year Framework Programme is the development of a continent-wide, cross-sectoral African eco-label. The African Eco-labelling Mechanism (AEM) aims at promoting intra-African and international trade and enabling African economies to adapt and contribute to the mitigation of climate change.
The development of the AEM takes place under the auspices of the African Regional Standardisation Organisation (ARSO), which offers sound expertise in the field of standardisation as well as a broad political network. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), GTZ supports ARSO in establishing an independent institution for the administration of the African Eco-label.
The AEM will establish a recognition system for sustainability standards which will function as a quality assurance mechanism. A set of threshold criteria will be defined including ecological, social and climate-relevant requirements as well as credible implementation mechanisms. National and international standards systems fulfilling these requirements will be able to use the AEM label alongside theirs.
Using this recognition system, the AEM will encourage standards systems to address climate-relevant issues such as product carbon footprints or carbon offsetting schemes, which have often not yet been tackled adequately by existing standards systems. Furthermore, regional and sectoral up-scaling activities of existing standards in Africa will be facilitated.
The use of one common label awarded on the basis of clear threshold criteria combines high credibility with the value of African brand recognition. This will improve the image of sustainable African products and thereby foster their trading and marketing opportunities. Creating synergies through reduced marketing expenditure and certification costs, the AEM will foster the cooperation of different voluntary ecological and social standards. For the consumer, the approach means enhanced transparency while at the same time maintaining the benefits of competition among the standard initiatives.
The three-year development phase of the AEM focuses on the following main activities:
- Establish an organisational structure.
- Develop a viable business model to ensure financial self-sufficiency.
- Develop a comprehensive recognition system to assess the conformity of existing sustainability standards in the agriculture, forestry, tourism and fishery sectors with the AEM reference standard.
- Focus on capacity development to create an enabling political environment for standards systems.
- Establish a panel of marketing experts from national and international companies, NGOs and state agencies to effectively promote the African Eco-label both in regional and international markets.
- Establish working links to national political bodies, regional associations and international agencies engaged in the facilitation of sustainable production patterns.
The key sectors identified for the AEM are agriculture, forestry, tourism and fishery. They have been selected on the basis of their economic importance for Africa as well as their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions and their GHG saving potential. While agriculture makes up only 14% of the gross domestic product in Sub-Saharan Africa (World Bank 2008), it employs nearly 50% of the economically active population in the region (UNECA 2006) and contributes 20% of the total greenhouse gases emitted in those countries (World Resources Institute 2006). Considering that more than 35% of GHG emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa originate from deforestation and land-use change (World Resources Institute 2006), it is of paramount importance to also include the forestry sector in the AEM. Some countries heavily rely on the fishery or tourism sector: One third of Mauritius’ income is generated by tourism and in major African economies such as Egypt and South Africa tourism still comprises 13% and 8% respectively of the countries’ GDPs (World Travel and Tourism Council 2010). Fishery mainly backs coastal economies such as Ghana and Namibia where seafood contributes nearly 8% to their economic outputs (OECD 2008). Increased resource efficiency and the use of local renewable energy sources encouraged by the AEM will be effective tools for achieving mitigation and adaptation goals in the respective sectors.
The AEM is supported by an extensive network of various regional and international organisations. Partners include:
- African Regional Standardisation Organisation (ARSO);
- German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU);
- African Union Commission (AUC);
- African Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production (ARSCP);
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP);
- United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO);
- United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA);
- African Regional Economic Communities (REC).