Climate Change Could Worsen Supply Chain Turmoil – The New York Times
Chinese factories were shuttered again in late August, a frequent occurrence in a country that has imposed intermittent lockdowns to fight the coronavirus. But this time, the culprit was not the pandemic. Instead, a record-setting drought crippled economic activity across southwestern China, freezing international supply chains for automobiles, electronics and other goods that have been routinely disrupted over the past three years.
Such interruptions could soon become more frequent for companies that source parts and products from around the world as climate change, and the extreme weather events that accompany it, continue to disrupt the global delivery system for goods in highly unpredictable ways, economists and trade experts warn.
Much remains unknown about how the world’s rapid warming will affect agriculture, economic activity and trade in the coming decades. But one clear trend is that natural disasters like droughts, hurricanes and wildfires are becoming more frequent and unfolding in more locations. In addition to the toll of human injury and death, these disasters are likely to wreak sporadic havoc on global supply chains, exacerbating the shortages, delayed deliveries and higher prices that have frustrated businesses and consumers.
“What we just went through with Covid is a window to what climate could do,” said Kyle Meng, an associate professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and the department of economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The supply chains that have stretched around the world in recent decades are studies in modern efficiency, whizzing products like electronics, chemicals, couches and food across continents and oceans at ever-cheaper costs.
But those networks proved fragile, first during the pandemic and then as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with companies struggling to source their goods amid factory and port shutdowns. With products in short supply, prices have spiked, fueling rapid inflation worldwide.
The drought in southwestern China has also had ripple effects for global businesses. It drastically reduced hydropower production in the region, requiring power cuts to factories and scrambling supply chains for electronics, car parts and other goods. Volkswagen and Toyota curtailed production at nearby factories, as did Foxconn, which produces electronics, and CATL, a manufacturer of batteries for electric cars.
The Yangtze River, which bisects China, dipped so low that the oceangoing vessels that typically traverse its upper reaches from the rainy summer into early winter could no longer run.
Companies had to scramble to secure trucks to move their goods to Chinese ports, while China’s food importers hunted for more trucks and trains to carry their cargo into the country’s interior. The heat and drought have wilted many of the vegetables in southwestern China, causing prices to nearly double, and have made it hard for the surviving pigs and poultry to put on weight, driving up meat prices.
Recent rainfall allowed power to be temporarily restored to houses and businesses in western China. But drought persists across much of central and western China, and reservoirs remain at a third of their usual level.
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