Dried up rivers and sweating pandas: A wave of heat and drought has been plaguing China for weeks. The economy suffers as a result.
Munich/Chengdu – There is a lot of talk about solidarity in Germany these days. Before the heaters stay cold in winter and the industry can no longer produce because there is no gas from Russia, citizens should start saving now. Take shorter showers, wait for the heaters, ventilate properly. But it remains to be seen whether those who can afford to heat with the windows open will also stick to it. In China, people are already further along: in the People’s Republic, people are showing solidarity in the face of an unprecedented heat wave and dramatic energy shortages, and the whole country is participating. At least that is the picture that the state media and the strictly controlled social media have been conveying for days.
“Saving electricity and water is what we need to do now. We must be united to overcome the difficulties,” writes a user on Weibo, to the applause of more than 40,000 people. A video is also currently making the rounds on the social network, showing a woman named Li pulling a package of food with a long rope to the 25th floor of her apartment building. Just before she placed the order, the woman from Sichuan province said the electricity was cut off. Ms. Li came up with the idea of using the rope so that the delivery boy doesn’t have to climb hundreds of steps at the current daily temperature of around 40 degrees.
Heat wave in China is also affecting the economy
Sichuan is in western China, on the border with Tibet. The province produces more than 80 percent of its electricity with hydropower, part of which is usually exported to other parts of the country. For a few weeks now, however, the province has been hit by a drought and heatwave the likes of which have not been seen in decades. Rivers that were once mighty have dwindled to rivulets, making it difficult to produce electricity there. According to analysis by investment bank Morgan Stanley, daily electricity generation from hydropower has fallen by 51 percent. At the same time, private demand is increasing, as many people can hardly stand it without air conditioning in their homes or offices due to the high temperatures.
In the past few days, the electricity had to be switched off again and again – which not only affects private households, but also the many companies based in the province. This also includes global corporations such as Apple’s contract manufacturer Foxconn, Bosch and Toyota. E-cars and photovoltaic systems in particular are manufactured in Sichuan, and raw materials such as lithium and polysilicon are also mined. All of these industries suffer from supply chain disruptions. Even in distant Shanghai – around 1,700 kilometers from Sichuan’s capital Chengdu – the effects of the energy crisis in the western part of the country can be felt. The lights stayed off on the Bund, Shanghai’s world-famous waterfront, on Monday and Tuesday. Because the 24-million metropolis gets part of its electricity from hydroelectric power plants in the border area between Sichuan and Yunnan and from the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, on the banks of which less rain was measured in July than in 60 years.
Heat wave in China: Even the pandas are sweating
It’s getting too hot even for the pandas that live in large protected areas near the capital Chengdu: China’s state news agency Xinhua published pictures showing how giant panda Qing Qing cooled off on a huge block of ice.
But not only Sichuan suffers from the extreme heat. In central China’s Henan province, a woman recently reported that the live shrimp she bought at the market and carried home in a plastic bag filled with water was boiled by the heat on the way home. In Guangzhou, in the far south of the country, a man shared a photo of the soles of his shoes having melted on the scorching hot asphalt.
Large parts of the country are currently experiencing the worst heat wave since records began in 1961, and there is also exceptional drought. A total of 14 Chinese provinces and regions are currently affected by “moderate to severe” drought, according to official figures. In the east coast metropolis of Nanjing and in the city of Nanchang in the central province of Jiangxi, there was still no rain for the whole of August.
The drought is already affecting the food supply. Northeast of Nanchang is Lake Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake. Recently, however, the poyang has shrunk to just a quarter of its normal size. In the middle of the dried-up waters, an actually sunken island with a historic lighthouse reappeared. Irrigation canals that supply water to rice fields in the area remained dry – which is why the government had new ditches dug to irrigate at least part of the fields.
This is urgently needed, because China has seven percent of the world’s usable agricultural land, but has to supply 22 percent of the world’s population with it. It’s a dilemma that could get worse as the country is forecast to face increasingly severe and prolonged heat and drought periods in the future.
China is suffering from climate change – and is fueling it itself
Everywhere in China attempts are now being made to reduce energy consumption. In the Yangtze metropolis of Chongqing, east of Chengdu, several shopping centers only opened in the late afternoon – and only for a few hours, to save energy. Since July, temperatures of over 35 degrees have been measured in the city on more than 30 days. Dozens of subway stations have therefore been converted into shelters. Some residents of the city even fled to bunkers from World War II to cool down, as Xinhua reported. There have also been several forest fires in the area.
Because many hydroelectric power plants across the country are no longer operating at full capacity, the government is forced to burn more coal. China is currently responsible for around 30 percent of global CO₂ emissions – and thus at first glance a climate sinner who is now feeling the effects of man-made climate change. In fact, however, the per capita emissions in China are only about half as high as in the USA – and at about the same level as in Germany. In addition, many emissions result from the production of goods that are not consumed in China but abroad. In addition, emissions in China were at a very low level for decades and only rose sharply from around the year 2000 onwards.
Nevertheless, China is now faced with the urgent question of how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without slowing down economic growth. State and party leader Xi Jinping announced two years ago that the country actually wants to be CO₂ neutral by 2060. Even if the EU and USA want to get there ten years earlier, it is an ambitious goal. This year, the additional coal burned should not increase CO₂ emissions because less is being produced at the same time – due to the current power outages, but also because of the many corona lockdowns across the country. But China’s emissions are not expected to actually decrease until 2030. It is already evident almost everywhere in the country that time is of the essence. (sh)