The lights of the Bund district were switched off on Monday and Tuesday to save electricity after record-breaking temperatures and prolonged drought reduced the country’s power supply, my colleague Stuti Mishra reported this week.
The megacity wasn’t the only one making cuts. China’s ruling Communist party ordered rolling blackouts across the country as dozens of cities baked in triple-digit heat. In another major city, Chengdu, lights were dimmed on the subway to save power.
The dangerous heat has also cut drinking water supplies, and withered huge expanses of crops at a time when the world is already facing food shortages due to the war in Ukraine. People have been taking evening strolls on dried-out river beds and paddling in the shallows as hundreds of rivers, including the mighty Yangtze, have shrunk.
The impacts will ripple out globally with shipping routes impacted and factories forced to close due to reduced hydropower. Sichuan province, a booming industrial hub with a population of 94 million in southwestern China, is being particularly hard hit as 80 per cent of its power comes from hydroelectric dams.
Chinese meteorologists say this summer is the country’s hottest and driest since it began keeping temperature and rainfall records in 1961.
Temperatures have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than 70 days.
The dry conditions and extreme heat have sparked ferocious wildfires. In the city of Chongqing, downtown residents posted videos on social media of embers falling onto their balconies from blazes that are burning in the surrounding mountain forests as thousands of firefighters battle to bring them under control.
Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense around the world as a consequence of the climate crisis and China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, faces significant risks. Along with drought, the country faces a high level of threat from river and coastal flooding, and great exposure to tropical cyclones.
While China’s net-zero target is a decade later than most countries, it has promised that emissions will peak before 2030, when the country will lessen its appetite for coal and lean into cleaner energy sources. One of the more optimistic moments at Cop26 last November came in a joint statement from China and the US – the world’s second largest emitter – saying that they would work together to ramp up climate action this decade.
That plan, however, appears to have been put on ice as tensions have escalated between the two superpowers in recent months, leading to China scrapping bilateral talks. With less than 100 days to go until the next international climate summit in Egypt, there are deep concerns that ambition to curb global temperature rise is waning.
As Sunny Hundal, deputy editor of the Independent’s opinion section, wrote this week: “Alarm bells are going off across the world. We need to hear them.”