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Changing Our Ways: Scotland's Climate Change Programme


Section 6: Adapting to the impacts

Through a monitoring programme of flower opening at RBGE it is clear that many species are flowering several weeks earlier in the year and the growing season is longer.


6.1 No matter how successful global efforts to reduce emissions are, some degree of climate change is inevitable. Much of the change in climate over the next 30 to 40 years is already determined by past and present emissions. Adapting to the impacts of climate change is largely a national and a local issue 40 and the Executive has full control over devolved policy levers to encourage appropriate Scottish responses at a range of levels. It is the people who live and work in Scotland that will determine how successfully Scotland is able to adapt to climate change. And by factoring climate change impacts into decisions on investment and infrastructure at an early stage in the development process unnecessary costs and damages can be avoided.

6.2 This section introduces the possible impacts of climate change in Scotland and work to improve our understanding of the future climate, and then describes the main policy developments to address this. The specific role of planning and flood risk management are considered and examples of other key areas of activity are highlighted.

The changing climate

6.3 The world is already witnessing changes in the climate. Global temperature has risen by about 0.7°C over the last 100 years, with about 0.4°C of this warming occurring since the 1970s. There was widespread flooding across Europe in 2002 and a heatwave throughout Europe in 2003 caused an estimated 35,000 extra deaths. Initial findings from research into historical climate trends in Scotland show that over the last 40 years temperatures have increased in every season and in all parts of Scotland since 1961, and that in the North and West, rainfall has increased by almost 60% in winter months. 41There is little doubt that Scotland will be increasingly affected by climate change in the future and it is essential that we adapt.

6.4 There are some uncertainties about future levels of global GHG emissions and the impact that will have on our future climate. We cannot be certain how population, economies, energy technologies, and other social and political factors that influence emissions will change in the future. Nor is it certain how the climate system will respond to those emissions. These uncertainties are diminishing as scientific knowledge improves.

6.5 Climate scenarios covering future climate changes in Scotland were published in 2002 42 by the UK Climate Impacts Programme ( UKCIP). 43 These are based on socio-economic scenarios of how the world might develop in the future. Four climate scenarios have been developed - low global emissions, medium-low emissions, medium-high emissions and high emissions - and give an indication of the impacts that these might have on a range of climate variables (eg temperature and rainfall) in the 2020s (2011-2040), 2050s (2041-2070) and 2080s (2071-2100). A scale of High, Medium and Low is used to describe the relative level of confidence in statements about future changes in UK climate. The table below summarises the analysis of the UKCIP climate change scenarios for Scotland for the 2080s based on the high emissions scenario. 44

How might Scotland be affected by climate change


UKCIP02 high emission scenario for 2080

Relative confidence level


Warming of 0.3 to 0.5°C per decade is expected. Greatest warming (+3.5 to +4.5°C) in autumn across the whole of the country bar the extreme north. More marked seasonal differences between summer/autumn and winter.



Winter precipitation increases by 20-35% in the south, east and northeast.


Summer precipitation decreases by 30-50% in south, central and east Scotland. Larger differentiation between the drier summer and wetter winter seasons.


With regard to temperature, winter and spring become less variable by up to 25%.


however, the inter-annual variability is increased in summer by 25% across south Scotland, and in autumn by 15-25% almost all of Scotland.

With regard to precipitation, there is a reduction in intra-annual variation in summer across almost all of Scotland, reaching 30% in south, central and west Scotland.


Cloud cover

Slight decrease in summer cloud cover, excepting the extreme north and northwest; slight increase in winter cloud cover in some northerly areas.



Relative humidity decreases slightly across the whole of Scotland in spring and summer, and all of Scotland bar the extreme north and north-west in autumn and winter.



All of Scotland will receive at least 50% less snowfall than in winters at present, and over 70% less in the eastern half of the country.


Soil moisture

The highest changes are in summer and autumn, with a reduction in soil moisture in summer and autumn of 10-40% in all of Scotland bar the Highlands. Soil moisture levels are higher than present in winter, with an increase of 0-10% over most of Scotland.


Precipitation intensity

Increases in winter.


Temperature extremes

Number of very hot days increases, especially in summer and autumn. Number of very cold days decreases, especially in winter.


Wind speed

Daily mean wind speed with a 2-year return period will increase slightly in winter and decrease in summer.


Thermal growing season

Increase everywhere.


Degree days

Heating degree days decrease everywhere. Cooling degree days increase everywhere.


Average sea level

Global sea level will continue to rise for centuries. The melting West Antarctic ice-sheet will contribute relatively little to global sea level rise this century. Global sea level will increase by 9-69 cm by the 2080s. Scottish sea level will be similar to global sea level.


Extreme sea level

Storm surge return periods will fall and storm surge heights will increase.


Marine climate

Sea-surface temperature will increase around the entire Scottish coastline.


Table extracted from Business Risks of Climate Change to Public Sector Organisations in Scotland ( www.sniffer.org.uk )

6.6 Over the longer term, Scotland could be further affected if climate change leads to serious, large scale and irreversible disruptions to the global climate system. If global surface temperatures rise 2ºC above pre-industrial levels (global mean temperatures have already risen by 0.7ºC), a more rapid, unexpected and possibly irreversible response of the climate becomes more likely. 45 Possible events which are currently regarded as being low probability but high impact include the reversal of the land and marine carbon sink, and destabilisation of the polar ice sheets causing additional sea level rise and a reduction in the strength of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (which is responsible for Scotland's temperate climate) leading to significant cooling in the North Atlantic and Europe.

6.7 As part of the global community, we will increasingly be affected by the impacts on other countries, particularly those in the less developed world which are likely to experience disproportionately negative impacts in relation to food security, disease, drought and conflict. The World Heath Organisation estimates that some 600,000 deaths occurred world-wide as a result of weather-related disasters in the 1990s; and some 95% of these were in poor countries 46.

Adaptation policy

6.8 The Executive is putting in place a framework to help reduce Scotland's vulnerability to the effects of climate change. We recognise that understanding climate impacts and developing effective adaptation responses is an important element of our overall climate change response. The Executive has a key role as an educator and facilitator, providing strategic oversight and facilitating a partnership approach with stakeholders. The way in which we adapt may impact on other environmental objectives such as biodiversity, soil, water and air quality. It is important that climate change adaptation actions are sustainable and limit the wider environmental, social and economic impact.

6.9 Adaptation should not be viewed in isolation to mitigation, and vice versa. Some adaptation responses could increase emissions and, wherever possible, measures that address both the adaptation and mitigation agendas should be pursued.

The Adaptation Policy Framework

6.10 As a means of drawing together existing adaptation activity, identifying gaps, and setting a strategic framework for future adaptation action, the Executive is working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ( DEFRA) and the other devolved administrations to develop a UK Adaptation Policy Framework. Development of this framework is split into three stages:

  • Stage 1 will capture the national picture of climate change adaptation as it currently stands (a consultation on this stage closed on 31 January 2006);
  • Stage 2 will analyse adaptation activities taking place and the reasons why some sectors are adapting more successfully than others; and
  • Stage 3 will consider why adaptation is not occurring in certain areas and what incentives and assistance are required in order to ensure that it is considered in future.

6.11 This strategic approach to adaptation will identify the key risks and opportunities of climate change impacts for a number of different sectors and will help define the differing roles and responsibilities of the various organisations that have a part to play. This will not be a static document, but will be reviewed and updated as necessary.

The Scottish Climate Change Impacts Partnership

6.12 Whilst the Executive has a strategic role in responding to the threat of climate change, public and private stakeholders operating at regional and local level will be crucial in the effective implementation of adaptation actions. In order to provide effective engagement between the strategic decision makers and the regional and local stakeholders, the Executive, in collaboration with UKCIP and the Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research ( SNIFFER), has established a Scottish Climate Change Impacts Partnership ( SCCIP). The focus of the partnership is on addressing climate change adaptation, and to consider links with mitigation issues where appropriate.

6.13 The Partnership aims 'through local and regional action, to increase the resilience of organisations and infrastructure in Scotland to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the impacts of climate change'. A programme of activities for 2006 has been developed that will give Scottish partners the opportunity to input, and learn about, current policy and research activities in the areas shown below.

SCCIP Programme of action for 2006

Scottish Local Authority Climate Change Programme

A programme to support Scottish local authority activity on climate change is being developed by a partnership of Scottish local authority representatives and other relevant stakeholders, coordinated by the Sustainable Scotland Network (see the public sector in Section 5 for further information). Appropriate support mechanisms are also being explored.

UKCIP Climate Change Scenarios

The next set of UKCIP climate change scenarios, updating those published in 2002, is currently under development and is expected to be published around 2008. A workshop for Scottish partners, to inform data preferences and presentation needs, is planned for May 2006. This workshop will also coincide with publication of a SNIFFER report, A Handbook of Climate Change Patterns across Scotland.

Dissemination of Climate Change Research Outputs

Outputs from climate change adaptation research of relevance to Scotland will be disseminated to a wide grouping of partners via existing mailing lists on climate change and via the SNIFFER website. A workshop for Scottish partners is planned for autumn/winter 2006 in order to disseminate outputs from specific research projects on risks of climate change to the private sector in Scotland.

Transport Scotland

The new national transport agency, Transport Scotland, assumed responsibility for the rail and trunk road networks in Scotland in January 2006. Work is already ongoing in both transport disciplines to embody the expected effects of climate change into future sustainability and resilience planning. Transport Scotland will seek to build on this body of work and on existing transport industry liaison arrangements to ensure that there is effective dialogue with stakeholders about climate change and its implications for the strategic transport network in Scotland.

UK Adaptation Policy Framework

In addition to the opportunity to make a written contribution to the formal government consultation on a UK Adaptation Policy Framework, a workshop was held for Scottish partners in January 2006. These partners will continue to be consulted as the Framework develops.

Key areas of adaptation activity

6.14 Effective adaptation requires a response by all sectors to the range of anticipated climate changes. However, the climatic extremes to which Scotland is perhaps most sensitive are increased precipitation, particularly intense rainfall events, and increased frequency of intense storms bringing an increased risk of flooding.

6.15 The planning system has a key role to play in avoiding flood risk by ensuring a balance between a constraint on activities because of adverse climate risk and maintaining an acceptable level of development. Sustainable flood management responds to the threat of flooding where, for whatever reason, development is in a flood risk area. These adaptation responses are explored further below.

The planning system

6.16 The important role which the planning system has to play in adapting to a changing climate and mitigating GHG emissions is recognised in the relevant Executive planning publications. The overview is provided in SPP 1 The Planning System which states that: 'the planning system can play a part in reducing emissions when guiding the location and design of development and the management of land use change. Specific actions include reducing the need to travel and encouraging sustainable forms of transport, and encouraging energy efficient design and appropriate choice of materials. The planning system should take the possible impacts of climate change, for example greater rainfall and increased risk of flooding, into account when taking decisions on the location of new developments and other changes of use.'

6.17 Other SPPs, and related Planning Advice Notes ( PANs), are relevant to climate change including those on flooding, housing, coastal planning and sustainable urban drainage systems. The role of the various SPPs in mitigating climate change is highlighted where relevant in Section 5.

6.18 The changing climate is identified in the National Planning Framework as a 'key issue and driver of change'. The Framework acknowledges that some climate change is now inevitable and that Scotland will need to adapt to an overall warming with wetter winters, rising sea levels and more intense rainfall. The planning system will have to face new challenges in its role of protecting the natural environment and shaping the built environment of the future.

6.19 The Executive, together with the other UK planning administrations, issued a wide-ranging consultant's report The Planning Response to Climate Change - Advice on Better Practice in September 2004. It gives an initial explanation of how the planning system can respond to climate change as it will affect infrastructure, flooding, coasts, water resources, biodiversity, land and landscape, economic development, transport, waste and resources, energy systems, and the built environment.

6.20 Planning authorities should take the Executive's policy and advice into account in the preparation of their structure and local plans, and in the determination of planning applications. The SEA of a plan will give an opportunity to consider its likely significant effects on climate, and Environmental Impact Assessment will do likewise for a wide range of projects at the planning application stage. Climate change considerations will typically be one of the matters which have to be factored into the decision making process.

Sustainable flood management

6.21 The Executive requires local authorities - as the promoters of flood prevention schemes in Scotland - to take account of climate change and the increased flood risk over the life of a scheme. This includes considering alternatives to so called 'hard engineering' such as natural flood attenuation. Resources available to support local authorities flood prevention and coast protection schemes have been increased.

6.22 The 2004 Foresight Future Flooding Report acted as a further spur for the Executive to review its activity in the area of identifying and managing flood risk, and in producing the evidence necessary to take forward policy in this area. The report called for an approach to managing flood risk through the integration of policies, which the Executive has already instigated with our National Flooding Framework. The Framework sets out our approach to managing flood risk, with different responses founded on the principles of Awareness, Avoidance, Alleviation and Assistance.

6.23 One of the shortcomings highlighted by the Foresight Project, was the limited data available on flood risk in Scotland. As a result, the Executive has spent £1.4 million on a Digital Terrain Model of Scotland. This model is being used by SEPA to produce a second generation indicative flood risk map to cover the whole of Scotland: the production of the map will cost around £1.8 million (funded by the Executive) and is due for completion in spring 2006. We have also commissioned a project to compile an asset register of river and coastal flood prevention schemes constructed in Scotland since 1961. This information will be used in conjunction with the new flood risk map and is also due for completion in spring 2006. The map and the information from the asset register will help to communicate flood risk to a wide audience including local authorities, developers and the public.

6.24 The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (the WEWS Act) introduced a duty on the Scottish Ministers, SEPA and the responsible authorities (still to be prescribed but expected to include local authorities) to promote sustainable flood management. This provision, among other things, makes the statutory link between the objective of flood risk management to protect life and property and the environmental objectives of the Water Framework Directive.

6.25 The Executive is developing an approach to sustainable flood management, which will require a whole life assessment of the costs and benefits of a scheme. This developing approach has been tested in a recent pilot study, the results of which will feed into a full public consultation early in 2006.

6.26 The Executive is also considering how best to take forward catchment flood risk management planning. The WEWS Act will lead to discussion of flood-related issues at the catchment level. The process will bring together local authorities, SEPA and Scottish Water; bodies that are integral to the success of any sustainable flood management strategy. To further encourage stakeholders to work together to help manage flood risk, the Executive has established the Flooding Issues Advisory Committee ( FIAC) to advise on the implementation of the National Flooding Framework. FIAC is made up of a range of stakeholders who can fully represent the wider flooding community. In addition, SPP 7 suggests local authorities set up Flood Liaison and Advice Groups ( FLAGs) to provide a forum for the key public and private interests to share knowledge and offer advice on flooding issues 47.

Other areas of adaptation activity

6.27 Providing the knowledge and information required to adapt to the effects of climate change is crucial and is an important element of the Executive's climate change response. The Executive is involved in a number of climate change research projects, whether as commissioner, funder or collaborator. Some recent examples of this are as follows.

  • Handbook of Scottish Climate Trends. The Executive is contributing to research to produce a handbook providing the most up to date historical trends of climatic variables in Scotland, which can be used by those considering the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The Handbook of Climate Change Patterns across Scotland to aid Adaptive Strategies, commissioned by SNIFFER on behalf of the Executive, SNH, SEPA and the FCS, is expected to be published in May 2006.
  • Business Risks of Climate Change to Public Sector Organisations in Scotland. The Executive funded research on the risks of climate change to public sector organisations in Scotland 48 to assist these organisations in preparing for managing the impacts of climate change. This study surveyed the impacts of climate change for five organisations ( SEPA, SNH, SW, VisitScotland and Forestry Commission Scotland) and recommended strategies for climate change adaptation.
  • Scottish Road Network Climate Change Study. The Executive published research in response to the landslips that occurred in Scotland in August 2004 - Scottish Road Network Climate Change Study 49; Scottish Road Network Landslides Study 50. The recommendations contained in the Scottish Road Network Climate Change Study are currently being progressed and a follow up report outlining the various actions taken in respect of these is due to be produced in late 2006. The ongoing work relating to the Landslides and Climate Change Study reports is being progressed in an inclusive manner with the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland ( SCOTS) to ensure that wherever practicable the further work can be of benefit to the Scottish road network as a whole. The Scottish Road Network Landslides Study phase 2 has now commenced. This detailed 18-month study of the road network will identify the areas with the highest hazard rankings and produce management and/or mitigation measures as appropriate to these hazards.
  • Flood Management. The Executive has published a number of research studies aimed at furthering understanding of flood risk in Scotland and the means through which it can be managed. These include: Climate Change: Flooding Occurences Review (2002); Climate Change: Review of Levels of Protection Offered by Flood Prevention Schemes UKCIP02 update (2003); Requirements for Flood Mapping: Scoping Study (2004); Natural Flood Storage and Extreme Flood Events Final Report (2005); and Scoping Study into the Cost of Flooding (2005). 51 The Executive has commissioned SNIFFER to provide a research and knowledge management service in relation to flood risk management in Scotland, with an emphasis on partnership working. SNIFFER has developed a Flood Risk Research Management Website ( RISE) 52 which includes details of the legislative framework and a knowledge inventory.

6.28 A selection of further actions the Executive has undertaken to build adaptive capacity is set out in the box below. A comprehensive account of the wide-ranging activities in these areas and many other sectors (eg building standards, agriculture, land use) will become available through Stage 1 of the Adaptation Policy Framework.

Selected examples of Scottish Executive activity to build adaptive capacity


  • Commissioned and published several research studies, including Potential Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change in Scotland. 53 This study recognised that an adaptation strategy to climate change in Scotland did not require a fundamentally different framework to that already existing.

Local Authorities

  • Recognised the important role of local authorities in Scotland in responding to a changing climate and jointly supported local authority climate change impacts workshops with Sustainable Scotland Network ( SSN), the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ( COSLA) and the UK Climate Impacts Programme ( UKCIP). Working with these organisations, and SNIFFER, sponsored research on Scottish local authority climate change activity. 54


  • Published Scotland's Biodiversity It's In Your Hands 55 in 2004, which identifies the challenges to biodiversity posed by climate change, and emphasises the importance of planning to increase the connections between areas of habitat, to help species shift their range in response to changes in climate. The Rural Implementation Plan includes two actions to improve understanding of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. The Executive is also funding a 3-year research project which is examining the impacts of climate change on island ecosystems under the Biodiversity Action Grants Scheme.


  • Published Habitat Networks for Wildlife and People in 2003, in part to assist ecological adaptation. Network creation is supported through woodland grant schemes. New guidance is in preparation on Seed Sources for Planting Native Trees and Shrubs, which includes climate change considerations. Forestry practice is being reviewed in the light of climate change predictions, for example, in relation to species choice and diversity, practices to retain carbon in forest systems and modification of civil engineering specifications. Monitoring and response capacity are being reviewed in relation to woodland related pests, diseases and abiotic (non-living) threats like fire, storms and flooding.


  • Supporting the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, which aims to provide a national co-ordinating framework for the transfer of high quality evidence of impacts to the marine climate and advise policy advisors and decision makers. In particular, the Partnership will act as the primary focus for the supply of evidence and advice to partners to enable them to plan, individually and collectively, for the challenges and opportunities presented by the impacts of climate change in the marine environment. Input to the partnership is from government departments and agencies, regional and local government, NGOs, marine laboratories and conservation agencies.

Built Environment

  • Engaged in the Building Knowledge for a Changing Climate ( BKCC) initiative which is researching how climate change will affect aspects of the built environment. BKCC is a £3m initiative, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council ( EPSRC). BKCC research projects cover areas ranging from risk management to the impact of climate change on energy supplies, land use and historic buildings. 56


  • VisitScotland is pursuing the principles of sustainable tourism, of which climate change is a core element. In addition to participating in the Executive-funded research on the Business Risks of Climate Change to Public Sector Organisations in Scotland, VisitScotland has undertaken work to evaluate the impact of climate change on Scottish tourism as part of their scenario planning activity. A paper on Understanding the Impact of Climate Change on Scottish Tourism57 published in 2005 recognises the opportunities for Scotland to position itself as Europe's most sustainable tourism destination and the challenges of ensuring that growth is sustainable and that the tourist industry is adapted to the changing climate. The Tourism and Environmental Forum 58 is taking a lead in responding to the opportunities and challenges. As a further development of this work, VisitScotland hosted a seminar on climate change and what it could mean for the future of Scottish tourism in February 2006.

Adaptation Route Map

Policy Area




New SCCIP Programme of Activities


Flood risk management

Consultation on Sustainable Flood Management

early 2006

Climate scenarios

UK Climate Change Scenarios workshop

May 2006

Climate trends

Publication of A Handbook of Climate Change Patterns Across Scotland to aid Adaptive Strategies

May 2006

Adaptation policy framework

UK Adaptation Policy Framework

Phase one complete spring / summer 2006


Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership: design and launch of website

spring 2006


Establish website presence to disseminate climate change research findings

June 2006


Workshop for Scottish partners to disseminate outputs from specific research projects on risks of climate change to the private sector in Scotland

autumn/winter 2006


Publish new guidance on Seed Sources for Planting Native Trees and Shrubs

by end 2006

Flood Risk Management

Report of Flooding Issues Advisory Committee ( FIAC)

early 2007


Publication of Phase 2 of the Scottish Road Network Landslides Study

spring 2007

Flood Risk Management

Publication of guidance on Sustainable Flood Management



Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership: review of the progress of the partnership

in 2007


Complete a Forestry Sector Climate Change Action Plan

by end 2007

Climate Scenarios

Dissemination and application of new climate change scenarios

post 2008


Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership: delivery of the aims and by 2010 objectives of the partnership