HONG KONG — China is grappling with extreme weather emergencies across the country, with the worst flooding in decades submerging houses and cars in the south and record-high heat waves in the northern and central provinces causing roads to buckle.
Water levels in more than a hundred rivers across the country have surged beyond flood warning levels, according to the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece. The authorities in Guangdong Province on Tuesday raised alerts to the highest level after days of rainfall and floods, closing schools, businesses and public transport in affected areas.
The flooding has disrupted the lives of almost half a million people in southern China. Footage on state media showed rescue crews on boats paddling across waterlogged roads to relieve trapped residents. In Shaoguan, a manufacturing hub, factories were ordered to halt production, as water levels have reached a 50-year high, state television reported.
Guangdong’s emergency management department said that the rainfall has affected 479,600 people, ruined nearly 30 hectares of crops and caused the collapse of more than 1,700 houses, with financial losses totaling $261 million, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
China has been grappling with summertime floods for centuries but floods this year have also coincided with heat waves that struck the northern part of the country, where the heavy rain is also expected to move in the coming days, according to the Central Meteorological Observatory.
Temperatures on Tuesday reached a high of 104 degrees Fahrenheit in nine northern and central provinces. In Henan, roadside surface temperatures as high as 165 degrees Fahrenheit created ruptures in cement roads last week that resembled the aftermath of an earthquake, local media reported.
The scorching heat in some of China’s most populous provinces has driven up the demand for air conditioning, fueling record electricity usage. In Shandong, a province in northeastern China with a population of 100 million, the maximum electricity load reached a record 92.94 million kilowatts on Tuesday, overtaking the 2020 high of 90.22 million kilowatts, state television said.
Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday while touring a thermal power company that the country must increase coal production capacity to prevent power outages.
The floods and heat waves in China this year have stretched on for days and weeks, as they did last year when weeks of floods killed hundreds of people, caused power outages and displaced millions in central and southwestern China, including in Zhengzhou, where floodwaters trapped commuters in subways.
The two-pronged weather emergency that China is experiencing reflects a global trend of increasingly frequent and lengthy episodes of extreme weather driven by climate change.
China has converted farmlands to cities in past decades, lifting millions of people in rural areas out of poverty. But in its pursuit of economic development, it has also become the world’s largest polluter, with greenhouse gas emissions exceeding those of all developed nations combined.
Xi Jinping has since become the country’s first leader pledging to tackle climate change as a national priority. China introduced a carbon market last July to curb emissions and has over the past two decades nearly quintupled the acreage of green space in its cities.
But significant environmental damage has already been done. The devastation and disruptions resulting from greenhouse gases that have already been emitted are likely to continue in the coming years.