Friday, May 24, 2024

Approaching modern challenges from a sustainability point of view


As evident, climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time. Changes in temperature has led to the challenges we currently face, driven by the increase greenhouse gases emissions due to dependence on the use of fossil fuels. The increase in heat trapping greenhouse gases have already had widespread effect on the environment such as sea ice loss, high sea levels and intense heatwaves. As a consequence of these effects, it has contributed to food and water insecurity, drought, natural disasters and forest fires. 

Overall, the impact of climate change is significant, but its far-reaching effects on the agricultural sector, on which the world’s food production and economy rely on, are now clearly visible. It is also worth noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, increasing the pressure on agricultural lands to meet growing food demands already impacted by climate change. Significant changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures has made the agricultural sector susceptible to reduced crop yield, increased invasive crops and diseases as well as degradation in water quality. This has threatened food security due to downward trend in crop yield, despite the increase in demand for an ever growing population. 

Due to the imbalance between food production and the growing demand for food, it has led to a hike in food prices and intensive agricultural practices such as exploitation of water resources and fertiliser use. The high input costs to farmers have cut their incomes in that, the profit margins are slimmer due to higher output price. Additionally, the need to preserve viable aquatic eco-systems will put additional strain on water resources, particularly in areas where the poorest rely on them for a living. Water allocations on agriculture may fall in many parts of the world as a result of the combined effects of climate change, environmental needs, and competition from higher-value economic sectors.

Not only has climate change led to water stress in the agricultural sector but has lengthened the drought period. Prolonged drought increases competition for scarce water supplies among all economic sectors and for human consumption, and it also has a negative impact on natural and ecological systems by reducing both soil water storage and water supply. As a result, drought limits the amount of water that is available, and poor water management during water shortages can result in a situation of water scarcity. With high intensity of drought and low precipitation, this creates increased risk of severe wildfires that spread quickly and burn with greater severity. Therefore, to mitigate the effects of climate change in the agricultural sector, it is important to implement and adopt smart agriculture system that includes agroforestry, use of cover crops as well as the utilization of green manure in order to restore the degraded soil. 

Water scarcity has also disrupted the manufacturing supply chain and with more frequent severity of drought, operational risk will rise. For instance, mining firms in Australia have struggles with water issues and the water demand in the Chinese industry if uncontrolled, will grow at 3 percent annually from 129 billion cubic meters in 2005 to 265 billion cubic metres in 2030 (McKinsey & Company, 2022). For various industries within the manufacturing sector to manage water related risks, it is important for companies to fully comprehend their exposure to water risks across its value chain and product portfolio, identify for solutions within their own operations and products as well as quantifying water usage within the supply chain to identify any risks. 

The manufacturing sector is also a major consumer of energy from electricity, oil and natural gas. In the aviation sector, 915 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is produced globally as of 2019, contributing to 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions and about 12% of all transport emissions (IRENA, 2022). Due to the global demand of energy, it has led to increase in energy prices throughout the year 2021, as of the year 2022, the geopolitical context is exerting pressure on international gas and oil prices hence leading to high energy costs that is passed on to their sale prices. Given the current status of the environment as well as the impact of the geopolitical pressures of oil and natural gas prices, manufacturing sectors could reduce their carbon emissions by opting for lower carbon fuels. In addition, for companies to be energy efficient, it frequently requires investments and must compete for limited funds with income generating projects. 

For the manufacturing industry to produce profitable goods and services as well as promote long – term sustainability, the implementation of circular economy. This production model takes into consideration the environmental cost as a result of resource extraction and production waste. Manufacturing companies that begin to implement the circular economy into their operations acknowledge it is costly initially however, their expenses reduce over time and it improves business continuity in the long – run.

Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

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