SHANGHAI: Extreme heat in China played havoc on Wednesday despite lower temperatures in some regions, with authorities across the Yangtze river basin scrambling to limit the damage from climate change on power, crops and livestock.
China’s heatwave, stretching past 70 days, is its longest and most widespread on record, with around 30% of the 600 weather stations along the Yangtze recording their highest temperatures ever by last Friday.
The southwestern region of Chongqing has been hit especially hard, with one resident, Zhang Ronghai, saying that both his water and his power had been cut after a four-day mountain fire in the district of Jiangjin.
“People need to go to a power centre over 10 km (6 miles) away to charge their phones,” Zhang said.
On Wednesday, images shared on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service showed residents and volunteers in Chongqing and Sichuan struggling and even passing out in intense heat during mandatory Covid-19 tests.
Chongqing’s agriculture bureau also drew up emergency measures to protect livestock at more than 5,000 large-scale pig farms, which have faced “severe challenges” as a result of the heat, state media said.
Damage to crops and water scarcity could “spread to other food-related sectors, resulting in a substantial price increase or a food crisis in the most severe case”, said Lin Zhong, a professor at City University of Hong Kong who has studied the impact of climate change on agriculture in China.
China’s National Meteorological Centre downgraded its national heat warning to “orange” on Wednesday after 12 consecutive days of “red alerts”, but temperatures are still expected to exceed 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Chongqing, Sichuan and other parts of the Yangtze basin.
One weather station in Sichuan recorded a temperature of 43.9C on Wednesday, the highest ever in the province, official forecasters said on their Weibo channel.
China has warned it is especially vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters are expected to proliferate in coming years as a result of more volatile weather.
As the drought drags on, state media have been turning their attention to the impact of climate change on other countries.
“Climate change is once again a wake-up call for the world,” said the official newspaper of China’s corruption watchdog on Tuesday, adding that damaging heatwaves and droughts had hit Europe, Africa and North America in recent weeks.
China, the world’s largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, is committed to bringing CO2 to a peak before 2030 and to become “carbon neutral” by 2060, and it is also racing ahead in renewable energy development.
But the drought has eroded hydropower generation and coal-fired power is again on the rise, with plants in Anhui province raising output by 12% compared with normal years.
Li Shuo, climate adviser with Greenpeace in Beijing, warned that power shortages “could easily be used as an argument to build more coal plants” but said a summer of extremes across the globe could prompt more action to be taken.
Prospects for international cooperation to tackle climate change dimmed following this month’s visit by U.S. House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, a self-ruled island China claims as its own.
In response, an angry China cancelled climate talks with the United States, ending an important channel that has helped drive greener policies.
China has said that climate cannot be separated from wider diplomatic issues. The foreign ministry told the United States last week that it should end a boycott of solar power products from the Xinjiang region and provide funds to help developing countries adapt.
The United States has banned imports from Xinjiang in an effort to safeguard the US market from products potentially tainted by human rights abuses. China denies that abuses are taking place.
“If recent events don’t focus minds, it’s hard to know what will,” Mark Beeson, a professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, who studies global climate politics, said of prospects for international cooperation.