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Scotland is not yet climate ready, CCC says

Scotland’s climate is changing, but action to adapt to critical impacts such as wetter winters and rising sea levels has stalled, posing risks to people, infrastructure and business. That’s the finding of a new, independent assessment published today by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

Over the last 30 years, average temperature in Scotland has risen by 0.5⁰C, Scottish winters have become 5% wetter and sea level around the Scottish coast has increased by up to 3cm each decade. Further climate change in Scotland is now inevitable, no matter how rapidly global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Further changes in the climate will bring impacts to every corner of Scotland.

The Scottish Government has set out a vision to adapt the nation and build its climate resilience in the second Climate Change Adaptation Programme (SCCAP2), but much more needs to be done to translate this ambition into real-world adaptation action. The CCC’s assessment highlights five areas where action to adapt and build resilience to climate change in Scotland is stalling:

  • Natural environment: Farmland makes up 73% of the land area of Scotland but there is no credible plan to adapt farmland habitats and species to a changing climate; rates of peatland restoration are falling well short of Government targets; River Basin Management plans do not include consideration of future climate change. Although there have been significant increases in marine protected areas around Scotland, there is still a mixed picture when it comes to the condition of marine mammals, birds, and fish.
  • Infrastructure: Plans in place to adapt Scotland’s infrastructure to climate change are insufficient. Ports, airports, telecoms, digital and ICT infrastructure all face substantial climate risks; the gap in planning how to maintain a weather-resilient energy system increasingly threatens the delivery of the Scottish Government’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets; infrastructure interdependencies can multiply the impacts of individual weather events but these are not yet being meaningfully incorporated into Scotland’s adaptation planning.
  • Built environment: Flood risk management plans do not include specific or measurable objectives for reducing flood risk and monitoring and evaluation frameworks are insufficient; data are not being collected on the number or location of new properties being built in flood risk areas; the majority of Scotland’s shoreline is not covered by Shoreline Management Plans, meaning most local authorities do not yet have a plan to manage coastal erosion risk.
  • Health: The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme high temperatures are not being adequately considered in key housing and buildings strategies; there are no plans for responding to climate change-induced increases in ‘vector-borne’ diseases, such as Lyme disease, despite notable increases in cases in recent years.
  • Business: There are no overarching plans and limited actions to prepare Scotland for supply chain disruption from climate change. There are also no measurable targets for reducing water demand by industry, despite risks of future droughts, and water abstraction data are not published. The economic opportunity of adapting to climate change is not well known.

The CCC recommends that the Scottish Government:

  • Drives action based on its vision for a well-adapted Scotland. Clear, time-bound and quantitative targets, with clear Government ownership, need to be set out to make Scotland’s adaptation vision drive sufficient action. This is essential for accountability. Adaptation needs to be embedded across the full range of Government activities.
  • Urgently improves monitoring and evaluation. Scotland lacks effective monitoring and evaluation systems meaning that changes in aspects of many climate-related risks are largely unknown. For adaptation plans to be effective these systems need to be created and implemented without delay.
  • Raises the level of adaptation response. Across Scotland there are numerous local-level initiatives that can form a blueprint for a stronger, adaptation response. There are also opportunities to extend Scotland’s leading position in considering how climate adaptation policy can be delivered fairly across society.

Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown, said: “We commend the Scottish Government on its vision for a climate ready Scotland, but the reality is that action is not happening at the scale or pace required. In most sectors including the natural and built environments, health, infrastructure and business, action has stalled. Without a renewed sense of urgency, the significant changes we are already seeing in Scotland today will have impacts on all areas of Scottish society and nature in the years to come. Scotland needs to up its game by kickstarting delivery; introducing clear, measurable targets; improving monitoring and evaluation of climate risks and ensuring greater accountability for Government – it has some examples of good practice to build on.”