Dashboard shows environmental impacts of exports from African and South Asian countries

24 March 2022

The tool helps governments and businesses understand how exports are hurting the local environment, so they can better align environmental, trade and industrial policies.


Every year, many developing countries export billions of dollars in manufactured products all over the world.

Bangladesh, for example, exports jute yarn for the textile industry. For every ton of finished product, 2.1 tons of CO2 are emitted locally into the atmosphere. In Kenya, for every ton of palm oil processed for export, 1.8 tons of pollutants equivalent to dichlorobenzene are left in the environment, straining local soils.

As countries develop productive capacities, their industries cause environmental and human health impacts on production sites, using harmful chemicals, consuming lots of water and energy and generating solid waste.

To help decision makers better understand the environmental impacts of exports and calculate their effects on a country’s pollution, UNCTAD has created a new dashboard as part of the Sustainable Manufacturing and Environmental Pollution (SMEP) programme.  

The dashboard, prepared jointly with Instituto 17, combines economic, trade and product life-cycle analysis to provide governments and industry actors with key export pollution data for important manufacturing sectors in 13  countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Visualizing exports’ environmental impact

The SMEP trade and pollution dashboard presents data for life cycle assessment and allows decision makers to quickly visualize the different environmental impacts of exports in a region or country, by product or type of impact, such as damage to freshwater or marine ecosystems.

The dashboard also maintains a list of the regional trade agreements signed by all sub-Saharan African and Asian countries that are part of the SMEP programme. Regional trade agreements can help manage pollution caused by international trade because they spread responsibilities between buyers and sellers.

“As the dashboard expands, it will serve to enhance various streams of research currently pursued through the SMEP programme, including those related to manufacturing and plastic pollution,” says Jonathan Hassall, lead advisor from the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (UK-FCDO).

Miho Shirotori, head of UNCTAD’s trading systems branch, said government officials and practitioners in SMEP-target countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia can reap tremendous benefits from the dashboard.

“Understanding better how pollution affects our societies can help align environmental, industrial and trade policies.  This is one of our goals as we design technical assistance in this area”, Ms. Shirotori said.

Khalid Mahmood from Pakistan’s Mastertex group, a clothing manufacturer, agreed that having public tools with better environmental analytics is useful to improve businesses operations and adapt to evolving environmental certification requirements.

“Having estimations of lifecycle pollution up to the factory gate and within the factory helps us work with our suppliers and industry players to identify precise actions to be taken,” Mr. Mahmood said.

The SMEP programme is funded by UK-FCDO and is jointly implemented with UNCTAD.