In view of the upcoming COP 27 of the UNFCCC, taking place in Egypt later this year, the growing threats on climate created by the textile and leather sectors call for our urgent action. If we continue down this path, we will fail by 50% to meet our 2030 emissions reduction targets, resulting in rising sea levels, extreme heatwaves and severe rainfalls, according to McKinsey.
As one of the most polluting sectors on the planet, the textile and leather industry alone represents 2.1 billion tons (4 %) of global greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions of France, Germany and the UK combined. Around 90 million tons of waste are created, and 87% of textiles are discarded or burned each year, costing 100 billion USD. In total, around 500 billion USD of value is lost given lack of recycling and poor utilization of clothing.
Pledges to bold steps from government representatives are thus highly critical to accelerate the global transition towards circularity and low-carbon footprints in the sector. This was reinforced at the recently held UNECE-UNIDO International Conference in Cairo, with the participation of H.E Dr. Fouad, Minister of the Environment of Egypt, who communicated action plans to enhance sustainable textile and leather value chains and to converge policymaking towards low-carbon in light of COP27. The high number of participants, 200 industry experts, with H.E Mr. Quaroni, Ambassador of Italy in Egypt; and H.E. Mr. Berger, Ambassador of the European Union in Egypt, further marked the high interest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to support a green and circular transformation of this industry and reduce its environmental impact.
H.E Dr. Fouad, Minister of Environment of Egypt, highlighted: “COP27 is coming at a critical time, when climate change is challenging our survival on planet earth. Egypt believes that everyone will be around the table at COP27, and that we stop talking but take action – as this year’s slogan goes ‘together for implementation’ – because no one can do it alone. COP27 will be inclusive and present different segments, starting from governments to private sector, civil society as well as youth and women. Yet how can we advance the global movement towards pushing the agenda for a sustainable garment and footwear? What we need is access to and availability of finance, technology and capacity building. We cannot ask that movement to happen without having the right tools and skills, especially within developing countries to make a just transition. Egypt is taking the topic of climate change very seriously. We are already getting on board with a roadmap, including the recently launched national climate change strategy 2050, enabling necessary tools, the role of governance, and finance infrastructure. At COP27, we will show and engage in our joint efforts, because there is no time left”.
The way forward in the MENA region
The textile-cotton and leather industry in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, bears a great deal of potential. For instance, in 2020, about 10% of EU’s imports from Egypt were related to textiles and clothing. It involves a high number of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and is a major provider of jobs. Further, Egyptian cotton is renowned worldwide as one of the finest fibres. While EU-Africa trade relations are progressing, some recent studies show that the textile and manufactured exports, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia, will increasingly benefit from global supply chain diversification thanks to their historical links with Europe, geographic proximity and preferential trade access to the European consumer market. Ongoing nearshoring activities and reshoring trends, especially by European firms, can further support the MENA region and its companies with increased investments and access to EU markets.
While Egypt has already achieved significant progress, e.g. through the national law of waste management and strategy for tackling climate impact, traceability and transparency remain crucial requirements to demonstrate compliance with the underlying set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) conventions.
“The textile sector is of key importance for Egypt, while being one of the biggest manufacturing sectors for the country. However, the complexity of value chains makes it very hard, especially for downstream actors, to have accurate information about how and where environmental and social impacts occur. UNECE together with UNIDO stands ready to offer its support for advancing the sustainable, circular and digital transition, and the compliance with ESG requirements, through enhanced traceability and transparency of value chains, in the textile and leather sector in the country and beyond”, said Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary, UNECE.
Outcomes of the UNECE-UNIDO International Conference
Over two days, the conference “Accelerating action for the sustainable garment and footwear industry of the future - The way forward to UNFCCC COP27“, aimed at supporting the MENA region’s textile and leather industry in its effort to embrace sustainable and circular business models. In this context, several industry actors joined the UNECE Call to Action, the Sustainability Pledge (e.g. WRÅD, Filmar Nile Textile, Cotton Egypt Association, Textile Exchange, Scarabaeus Sacer) to commit to implement traceability and transparency.
The underlying theme, highlighted by participants, was the necessity to join forces in implementation efforts through innovative and inclusive solutions. The discussions led to following recommendations:
- Collaboration and partnerships are key enablers to address labour, socio-economic and environmental challenges in global and regional value chains, as global issues cannot be addressed in silos.
- Considering the fast-changing regulatory landscape, especially at the regional level, (e.g. the EU legislative proposal on Due Diligence and Digital Product Passport), it will be key for SMEs in the MENA region to get accompanying instruments and capacity-building in order to meet new requirements and increase market access in the EU. Support measures could include those proposed under UNECE-ITC initiative.
- ESG requirements should be anchored as a driving force and not come at a cost. Particularly, SMEs, which are the engine of MENA’s economy should not have to bear the financial burden. Increased impact investments and access to financing will enable environmental and social performance to become sources of profitability.
- Harmonization and standardization are key to achieve an industry-wide scalability of solutions through technology and skills-enhancement.
Already, various facilities in Egypt are engaging in technologically advanced systems in their production, such as T&C Garments, Salamtex and Robbiki Leather City which participants visited as part of the conference. Their innovative business models are tackling climate change by focusing on measurable sustainability targets, including the reduced use of water, energy and chemicals. Their commitment to sustainable practices is underpinned by international certifications, increasingly requested by customers, to increase exports and access new markets.
The event reached a milestone with the exchange of letters under the Sustainability Pledge Call to Action between UNECE and UNIDO, and between UNECE-UNIDO and the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation (AICS), which lays-out the framework of action to increase collaboration and partnership. The aim is to mobilize a EUROMED multi-stakeholder platform to provide policy advice and capacity-building programs tailored to Egypt and the region, to strengthen knowledge and implementation capacity with UNECE-UNIDO instruments.
“Few years ago, sustainability was only part of international organizations’ agendas. Now, ESG sustainability is part of the agenda of all actors in the value chain. Especially, innovation plays an important role to shift to more socially and environmentally responsible business models. Thanks to the leadership of governments such as Egypt, there is a strong momentum to join hands in a global effort for an implementation plan, for a reduced environmental footprint in the sector. However, we need to make sure that we do not exacerbate the vulnerability of some people, but must protect all actors in our society”, concluded Riccardo Savigliano, Chief of Agro-Industries and Skills Development Division, UNIDO.