The COVID pandemic has rightly received most of the blame for global supply chain upheavals in the last two years. But the less publicized threat to supply chains from climate change poses a far more serious threat and is already being felt, scholars and experts say.

The pandemic is "a temporary problem," while climate change is "long-term dire," said Austin Becker, a maritime infrastructure resilience scholar at the University of Rhode Island. "Climate change is a slow-moving crisis that is going to last a very, very long time, and it’s going to require some fundamental changes," said Becker. "Every coastal community, every coastal transportation network is going to face some risks from this, and we’re not going to have nearly enough resources to make all the investments that are required."

Of all of climate change’s threats to supply chains, sea level rise lurks as potentially the biggest. But even now, years before sea level rise begins inundating ports and other coastal infrastructure, supply chain disruptions caused by hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other forms of increasingly extreme weather are jolting the global economy. A sampling of these disruptions from just last year suggests the variety and magnitude of climate change’s threats:

  • The Texas freeze in February 2021 caused the worst involuntary energy blackout in U.S. history. That forced three major semiconductor plants to close , exacerbating a global pandemic-triggered semiconductor shortage and further slowing production of microchip-dependent cars. The outages also forced railroad closures, severing heavily used supply chain links between Texas and the Pacific Northwest for three days.⁠
  • Heavy rainfall and snowmelt in February 2021 caused some banks of the Rhine River, Europe’s most important commercial waterway, to begin to burst, triggering a halt in river shipping for several days. Then, in April, water levels on the Rhine, facing a long-term drought, dropped so low that cargo ships were forced to load no more than half their usual capacity to avoid running aground. In recent years, manufacturers relying on the Rhine "have increasingly faced shipping capacity reductions that disrupted both inbound raw material and outbound product delivery flows" as a result of drought, according to a May 2021 report by Everstream Analytics, which tracks supply chain trends.

Read the full article about supply chains by Jacques Leslie at GreenBiz.