Water Industry News

Global River Cargo Routes ‘Increasingly Affected By Drought’

Some of the main river cargo routes around the world are being abandoned because of increasing periods of drought, according to an industry expert who has confirmed that the company she works for had to make the move from river to rail last summer in order to ensure shipments could still be made.


Ann Christina Sloek-Andersen, senior director at global shipping conglomerate Maersk, explained that the switch had to be made in Europe during the summer of 2022 in order to maintain connections between the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam and industry clusters of Hessen, Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, the BBC reports.


She went on to say that rail is the preferred option if river transport is impossible, since they have similar carbon footprints of approximately 20-30g of CO2 per tonne-km per year. In contrast, road freight and truck transportation emits almost 140g of CO2.


Typically, over 300 million tonnes of goods are transported by cargo boats along the Rhine River, which flows from Switzerland to the Netherlands, where it joins with the North Sea. But in 2022, record low water levels were seen, which meant that some vessels were only able to carry 25 per cent of what they usually would to prevent the risk of running aground.


A similar situation as seen in the US, with supply chain expert Sarah Schiffling noting that the Mississippi registered record low water levels last year. And in China, some parts of the Yangtze River were closed to ships because water levels had dipped more than 50 per cent below average.


Ms Schiffling, assistant professor at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki in Finland, explained to the news source: “You could walk across the mighty Mississippi  – that’s not something we were prepared for.


“Droughts are not a new phenomenon but [in 2022] we saw droughts in multiple areas across the world, all at the same time. It had a massive impact on inland shipping.”


This comes after the Copernicus Climate Change Service published its 2022 Global Climate Highlights at the beginning of the year, revealing that 2022 was a year of extremes, marked by broken temperature records and a continued increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.


Europe saw the hottest summer ever recorded, with temperatures across the year the second warmest on record. Globally, 2022 was the fifth warmest year on record – and it was also the eighth year in a row where average temperatures were more than one degree C above pre-industrial levels.


In some parts of northern central Siberia and the Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures were more than two degrees C above the 1991-2020 average.


And record temperatures were seen in both polar regions over the course of the year… all of which suggests that drought conditions will likely persist and worsen as time goes on and climate change continues to make its presence felt.


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