Europe’s evaporating rivers wreak havoc on food and energy production

The Loire River in France is at its lowest level as Europe is experiencing what is believed to be its worst drought in at least 500 years.

Supant clouds | Afp | Getty Images

Europe’s rivers are drying up after a long period of sweltering weather, raising concerns about food and energy production at a time when prices have already soared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The severe lack of rainfall and the sequence of heat waves from May onwards have caused severe damage to the waterways in the area.

In France, it became possible to cross the Loire River on foot in some places; It is feared that water levels at the main German choke point on the Rhine, one of Europe’s main waterways, Again can approach commercial traffic; Drought-hit waters in Italy’s Po River have revealed artifacts dating back to World War II – including a 50 meter long barge and Previously submerged bomb.

“We haven’t seen this level of drought in a very long time. Water levels in some major waterways are lower than they have been in decades,” Matthew Oxenford, senior Europe and climate policy analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, a research and consulting firm, told CNBC by phone. .

The wreck of a German warship from World War II in the Danube River in Brahovo, Serbia, August 18, 2022.

Vidya Grulovic | Reuters

“For some major ducts, there is very little leeway, sometimes less than 30cm of leeway before the duct becomes completely inoperable for any type of charge,” he added.

“So this will have very significant impacts on the economic and human activity that is happening around these waterways, where we are likely to remain in some form of drought for some time to come.”

Worst drought in 500 years

Europe is in the grip of what is likely to be the region’s worst drought In at least 500 yearsAccording to a preliminary analysis from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre.

As of early August, the Global Drought Monitor Report He said Nearly two-thirds of Europe was under some kind of drought warning, meaning the soil had dried up and vegetation was “showing signs of stress”.

The analysis found that nearly all of Europe’s rivers dried up to some extent, while water stress and heat “significantly reduced” summer crop yields. The forecasts for cereals, corn, soybeans and sunflowers were expected to be 16%, 15% and 12% lower than the average of the previous five years, respectively.

This comes as food prices stay stubbornly high Amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a major producer of commodities such as wheat, corn and sunflower oil.

If you grew up in central Europe, people usually love the sun – but now we hope for rain.

Axel Brønsert

Professor of Hydrology and Climatology at the University of Potsdam

The European Union report warned that the Western Europe and Mediterranean region is likely to experience warmer and drier than usual conditions until November.

to be sure, The worsening climate emergency has exacerbated and spread temperatures and droughts. And the lower nighttime temperatures that normally provide critical relief from hot days disappear as the planet warms.

“The problem is the severity of this particular drought,” Axel Braunsert, professor of hydrology and climatology at the University of Potsdam in Germany, told CNBC by phone.

“If you grew up in central Europe, people would normally like the sun — but now we’re hoping for rain,” said Brønstert, noting that it was unheard of for some small rivers in the region to dry up completely at this time of year. .

“Without really heavy rain in the next few weeks, the likelihood of the water level continuing to drop will be high,” he added.

Besides the environmental and health impacts of drought, Bronstert said the drought has resulted in a “very bad” yield of many different crops in Germany.

In Italy’s Po Valley, home to about 30% of agricultural production in the countryside, extreme heat and exceptionally dry conditions have hurt corn and sunflower production.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rising food and energy prices have led to a sharp rise in inflation, with consumer prices soaring in 19 countries that use the euro to New record 9.1% in August.

“I think the biggest point I want to stress is that such anomalies will become more common over the coming years due to climate change,” said EIU’s Oxenford, citing the possibility of more severe droughts, storms, heat waves and floods in Europe.

“So I think the takeaway for dealing with the economic impact of all of this is that countries will need to invest more in preparedness for things that used to be so uncommon – but that will now become more common as climate change upends a lot of the patterns of activity that have been built up over centuries.” .

The race to secure the power supply

An unloaded inland barge moves along the Rhine River at low water level in Duisburg, western Germany, on August 9, 2022.

Ina Fassbender | Afp | Getty Images

If the decline in Rhine water levels continues, it could subtract 0.2 percentage points from Germany’s GDP in the third and fourth quarters of this year, Andrew Kenningham, chief European economist at consultancy Capital Economics, said in a research note.

Kenningham said the drop in the water level of the Rhine was a relatively minor issue for German industry compared to the region Gas crisis worseningHowever.

Elsewhere, rising temperatures in France’s rivers in recent weeks have threatened to dent the country’s already low nuclear production. Summer heat waves have further warmed rivers such as the Rhone and Garonne rivers that the state-owned energy supplier EDF uses to cool nuclear power plant reactors.

France’s nuclear energy regulator has since extended temporary waivers to allow five power plants to continue discharging hot water into rivers before a looming energy crisis, Reuters reported.

And in Norway, a northern European country that relies heavily on hydroelectric power, the lack of rain has dramatically reduced the amount of electricity generated by dams. As a result, the Norwegian government announce In early August they plan to reduce energy exports.

European governments They are scrambling to fill underground storage facilities with gas supplies In order to have enough fuel to heat homes in the coming months.

Russia – which supplied the EU with about 40 percent of gas last year – has significantly reduced flows to Europe in recent weeks, citing defective and delayed equipment.

CNBC’s Emma Neuberger contributed to this report.

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