A crew member moors the La Mancha Knutsen LNG tanker at a port on the Panama Canal in Panama City, … [+] Panama, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The Panama Canal is seeing signs of a rebound in global trade as ship transits recover from the depressed levels caused by the pandemic. Photographer: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg
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The Panama Canal is a conduit for 6% of the global maritime traffic. But climate change is disrupting that trade. While high temperatures and little rain are the primary causes, four hurricanes over seven years have been equally devastating.
The Panama Canal is in the midst of Panama’s rainforests, which cover 68% of its land or nearly 12.7 million acres. Both depend on precipitation for survival. If the rainforests do not get ample rainfall, it trickles down to the canal. The bad news is that the canal’s authorities say that 2019 was the fifth most arid in 70 years, with rainfall 20% less than the average, all compounded by depleted reservoirs.
Indeed, water levels fell in 2015 and 2016, and shippers had to reduce the amount of cargo on their vessels — money down the drain.
“The Panama Canal is the only interoceanic commerce route whose operation depends on the availability of freshwater, making it the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of global climate change,” says Emilio Sempris, former minister of the environment for Panama from 2017 to 2019, in a talk with this writer. “There is no better natural solution to secure water in the Panama Canal watershed than protecting forests and planting more trees.”