ASC report shows Scotland could become increasingly vulnerable to climate change and should strengthen action to prepare – 24 November 2011

A report published today by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the UK Committee on Climate Change (ASC) finds that over coming decades, Scotland could become increasingly vulnerable to impacts of climate change unless it strengthens measures to adapt.

This first independent assessment finds that the Scottish Government has made good progress in putting in place a strategic and structured approach to adapting Scotland to a changing climate.  They have made a good start in raising awareness of what climate change is likely to mean for people’s health, Scotland’s economy and its internationally important natural heritage.

However, it will be important that the Scottish Government now builds on these foundations to ensure that its adaptation framework is actively addressing the risks from a changing climate:

  • In some critical areas it is not clear how long-term climate impacts are being taken into account, for example in planning and designing new national infrastructure such as Scotland’s renewable energy programme.
  • There is a mixed picture on the uptake of adaptation measures.   For example high numbers of sustainable drainage systems have been installed in new development but there is a low uptake of flood protection measures in existing buildings.
  • The adaptation framework does not give sufficient weight to Scotland’s contribution to global efforts to safeguard approximately 1.8 billion tonnes carbon stored in its peatlands.

The report shows that climate change will present both opportunities and potential vulnerabilities for Scotland. In future, Scotland’s climate is likely to be warmer and wetter in winter, and hotter and drier in summer than it is now. The report shows there is further potential for Scotland to benefit from possible opportunities from a changing climate, including:

  • The higher average winter temperatures will result in fewer winter deaths and lower demand for heating.
  • There will be opportunities for expansion of tourism, and outdoor sport and leisure activities.
  • There will be potential for new crops to be cultivated and suitable agricultural land expanded.
  • Melting of the Arctic ice sheet could result in new trade opportunities, although any associated increase in shipping may also have environmental risks for Scottish waters.

The report also highlighted some important areas of potential vulnerability including:

  • Scotland’s population is unevenly spread across the country. 82% of the population live on 6% of the land. Some densely populated areas such as Glasgow and Edinburgh are vulnerable to flooding and impacts from storms. Around 7% of the population live in remote rural areas.  These communities are vulnerable to transport disruption and interruption to critical services such as power, water and communication technologies (ICT)
  • Scotland’s population is ageing, in the last 10 years the total population has grown by 2.4%, but in the same period the over 75s increased by 14%. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather such as heatwaves and cold snaps.
  • Health challenges are more pronounced in deprived areas. Those that suffer ill health can be more vulnerable to the effects of flood events and increased temperatures. Deprived areas are less able to prepare, respond and recover from extreme weather events.
  • Scotland exports goods and services all over the world, amounting to around £21 billion (excluding oil and gas). Scottish businesses rely heavily on extended global supply chains, including countries that may experience significant climate impacts.
  • Scotland’s rich natural resources including internationally important wildlife and peatlands are sensitive to changes in the climate. These natural resources play an important role in economic activity in Scotland. For example Scotland’s forest and timber industries are estimated to be worth £1.7 billion each year while the natural environment as a whole is estimated to support economic output of over £17 billion and support around 250,000 jobs.

To enable these vulnerabilities to be managed and exploit opportunities the ASC recommend that Scottish Government strengthens adaptation in some policy areas, enables key decision makers consider adaptation in the long-term and ensure policies have clear outcomes and are evaluated appropriately.

Lord John Krebs, Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee said:

“While at first glance it may appear that Scotland will not be significantly affected by climate change and may see some benefits, it has a number of characteristics that mean it could be vulnerable to a changing climate in the future.  It is important that the Scottish Government now focus on understanding how its policies will address the risks from climate change by managing these vulnerabilities,  increasing its resilience, and taking advantages of any opportunities”.

The recommendations are set out in the ASC’s first report to Scottish Government ‘How well is Scotland preparing for climate change?’. The report provides an independent assessment of the level of preparedness to adapt to climate change.

The Scottish Government asked the Adaptation Sub-Committee to provide an initial assessment of how well Scotland is preparing for the effects of climate change, as a contribution to the development if their statutory adaptation programme required by the Climate Change Act (Scotland) 2009.