Climate change impacts in Scotland

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The Scottish Government has recently published the Climate change adaptation programme: progress report for 2023. This blog reports on the expected impacts of climate change in Scotland and links to the recent posts on climate change targets, terminology, and net zero.

Predicted changes to the Scottish climate

It is important to note that climate change is already happening and that due to ongoing increases in global emissions, further, greater changes are inevitable. For example, the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997. Recent research suggested that only around 60% of people recognise that Scotland is already feeling the effects of climate change.

Predicting future climate impacts is complicated by the uncertainty in future global emissions (although climate model projections have been shown to closely match eventual observations). The image below shows the range of potential future temperature changes under different emission scenarios.

Image showing global temperature projections under a range of global emissions reduction ambition

Source: CCC, Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (June 2021)

Determining how best to adapt to climate change, or what measures should be prioritised, is made challenging by the uncertainty around the future impacts and thus the benefits from adaptation. It can be difficult to measure the impacts of adaptations as benefits typically entail the avoidance of impacts. Also, the level of future benefits will in part be determined by the global climate mitigation actions; with greater mitigation efforts effectively lessening the benefit from adaptation investments. Some adaptation measures such as tree planting benefit from producing value in terms of emission reductions and climate adaption, like reducing flood risk and providing shade.

Adaptation Scotland – a body funded by Scottish Government to advise on climate change adaptation –  have summarised the climate impact projections for Scotland with low and high emission scenarios. The low scenario assumes rapid reduction in GHGs globally with the associated impacts thought to be the minimum that is likely to occur. The current global emissions trajectory is thought to leave Scotland closer to a medium-high scenario. It should be noted that the Climate Change Committee (CCC) have stated that one of the key weaknesses of Scottish climate adaptation planning currently, is that the relevant plans do not consider multiple future global warming scenarios.

In Scotland, some of the headline predictions for climate change are as follows (as reported by the CCC and other sources):

Impacts of climate change to life in Scotland

Some of the possible impacts from these meteorological changes in Scotland are outlined below:

There may be benefits (such as lower cold related deaths) or opportunities (the Climate Change Risk Assessment for Scotland highlight eight categories of opportunity) from climate change. The most common perceived opportunities from climate change in Scotland are that of a more active outdoor lifestyle and exercise, and increased tourism.

Small changes in average annual temperature will affect cultural and commercial activities across the country. To improve the salience of climate change (make it more relatable), below are some of the predicted impacts to some of the produce and pastimes present in Scotland.

Finally, although this blog has considered the impacts in Scotland, the global impacts will be as important (if not more) to life in Scotland as those that happen here. For example, the UK imports about half of the food that it consumes with about 20% of UK-consumed fresh fruit and vegetables thought to come from countries at risk of climate breakdown. There may also be as many as 1 billion climate or environmental migrants by 2050.

Niall Kerr, Senior Researcher, Climate Change and Net Zero