2018 brought a bumper summer for Europe – almost wall-to-wall sunshine, toasty temperatures and barely any rain. Great for relaxing in a beer garden and watching the World Cup and, you would think, for those choosing to holiday close to home (more on that later). However, while you were sipping those G&Ts and topping up your tan (or, if you are Scottish like me, cowering in the shade until the evening when it was safe to come out) there were less obvious (and less positive) consequences of the heatwave.
Take, for example, the Rhineland – Germany’s industrial heartland and home to many of Europe’s largest industrial producers. The river Rhine is the lifeblood of the area and a major logistical artery, underlined by the fact that over half of the containers that travel inland from the giant hubs at Rotterdam and Antwerp do so by barge.
However, this all depends on there being enough water in the river, which by the end of one of the driest summers recorded in Germany, there wasn’t. Water levels fell below those needed to run barges at full capacity and by late November, the situation had reached critical levels where even empty barges were unable to travel on some sections.
To put things into perspective, a standard sized barge has the capacity of about 160 lorries, so with water transport drastically reduced, is all of this supposed to be carried by road and rail? Supply chains simply don’t have that much slack and as a result, many major companies with production facilities in the area suffered.
BASF’s Ludwigshafen site, located on the Rhine, is the world’s largest integrated chemicals complex. Around a third of its material transport needs are met by barges, and as a result of low water levels, it had to reduce production to 60% of capacity. What’s more, facilities like this can’t just be ramped back to normal at the drop of a hat – it takes weeks! Add to this the increased costs of finding alternative sources of transport and the cost quickly mounts up – estimates are for an impact of around EUR200 million for BASF.
BASF is not alone, the likes of Covestro and Solvay announced significant impacts on their ability to receive shipments of raw materials. But it’s not just big chemicals companies… Commuters faced challenges topping up their tanks as supplies of petrol couldn’t get through to garages.
Even holidaymakers weren’t safe from the good weather! Buses had to replace boats on several stages of popular river cruise routes along the Rhine and the Danube, leaving tourists unimpressed as their leisurely cruise with a luxury cabin quickly turned into a cramped and bumpy coach ride.
So there we have it, as a result of human actions, weather is getting more extreme and climate change continues to impact the way we live and the way companies operate. This may be a minor concern when you’re enjoying the summer sun and I suspect it previously wasn’t much of a worry for large industrial companies either. But when the impact starts becoming more tangible and can be measured in millions of pounds of lost profits, then I’m sure companies will very quickly start to care and take action. Until they do, they will be left high and dry by taking natural resources for granted and assuming they will always be able to use them on the same terms as before.
About the author
Iain Snedden is an investment specialist in the equities team. He has responsibility for representing the firm’s equity capabilities both within and out with the firm, with a particular focus on our suite of global equity products. This involves ensuring colleagues and clients are kept up to date on developments within the funds and the wider market. Iain joined us in 2015 to work in the Client Management team with responsibility for a portfolio of UK-based institutional clients. Prior to that, he worked at Baillie Gifford and held roles within the client accounting and business risk functions. Iain graduated from University of Edinburgh with a first class honours degree in Accounting and Business Studies. He has 8 years’ industry experience (as at 30 November 2018).