Between potentially volatile changes in weather and political unrest, shipping companies must consider alternative routes now before they have to take them. As we see such developments as fluctuating precipitation in countries along with political power plays creating difficulties in using current trade routes, it is increasingly important to have a game plan for when these changes come.
Weather Changes and Conditions
Droughts throughout the U.S. and beyond have, historically, had great impact on trade routes and populations. Whether you look back hundreds of years to the drought that ended the Mayan Empire or to more recent water concerns in California, fluctuations in precipitation can easily make or break a trade route.
Looking forward, there is legitimate concern that weather changes could affect the Panama Canal which shortens the distances ships must travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This critical trade route would either be shut down or extensive measures would have to be taken to keep it up and running during a drought period. These measures could keep the canal operational but would make shipping much costlier, affecting businesses, consumers, and shippers.
In the Middle East, volcanic eruptions in the Strait of Bab-El-Mandeb could also cause shipping issues in the region. This combined with political factors and piracy could prove problematic as well.
For China, warm weather shipping is made possible by the Ocean Current coming from the Gulf Stream and shallow Canadian waters. These factors and others could make it possible for large ships to travel the channels of the Canadian Arctic. This will likely be a more efficient way to use large vessels compared to sailing through Cape Town or using smaller ships on the Panama Canal. However, it is still unclear if the channels will have their water levels sufficiently raised enough to support the large vessels.
A combination of political and weather events is likely to affect the Middle East, Central America, China, and India. As this happens, shippers would be wise to look to railway options and alternate water routes.