Consideration of climatic factors within Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

Guidance on the consideration of climatic factors within Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), developed by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).


Potential Impacts and Consequences of Climate Change on Scotland

The consequences of changes in Scotland's climate - past and future - will affect Scotland across sectors, income groups and communities. The implications and associated challenges of a changing and more variable climate on Scotland's key sectors may include:

Critical national infrastructure - energy, water, transport

  • Assets such as sewerage and drainage systems may not be able to cope with sudden and intense storm events which could lead to increased flooding. Retrofitting assets for new weather conditions could present a considerable cost;
  • Increased flooding, potentially leading to disruptions to customers' utilities supplies, including energy or water;
  • Increased variability in factors such as soil moisture having the potential to cause ground movements that make national infrastructure more vulnerable to damage;
  • Inaccessible assets that are vulnerable to flooding and storm damage;
  • Increased insurance costs to suppliers and generators;
  • Increasing variability of water availability (water resource planning) and water quality (rainfall run-off) potentially impacts water service delivery;
  • Hydro-electricity production, which may be affected by drier summers and wetter winters;
  • Existing requirements (e.g. water quality) that may generate emissions and become harder to achieve due to climate change effects;
  • Increased storm events may disrupt the supply of goods and services to island communities;
  • Fewer transport disruptions as a result of cold weather and less need for spreading salt, but potential for greater disruption from landslides or floods;
  • Cost of adapting road and rail infrastructure to changed climatic conditions - e.g. routing transport away from vulnerable coastlines; and
  • Impacts on port infrastructure from more severe storms as well as broader implications of greater service demand as new global shipping routes open.

Land and property ownership

  • Current building design standards may not be appropriate for the full lifetime of buildings;
  • Increased maintenance or retrofitting costs for existing buildings to cope with more intense rainfall events, increased algal and fungal growth etc;
  • Conflict between land use planning systems, for example managing flood risk while pursuing sustainable economic development;
  • Need to protect vulnerable historical sites and buildings from extreme weather events or greater severity of current threats (e.g. soil erosion and vegetation growth);
  • Increased need for cooling of buildings in warmer weather;
  • Increased insurance costs and potential uninsurability as extreme weather events such as flooding happen more frequently; and
  • Need to raise awareness amongst private property owners of their responsibility to be proactive in the face of a changing climate.

Natural environment and resource management

  • Loss of distinctive Scottish biodiversity (e.g. mountain habitats); biodiversity which helps to regulate the climate (e.g. peatland), reduces vulnerability to flooding (e.g. wetland and machair), and provides other ecosystem services (e.g. grouse moors);
  • Increased impact from pests and diseases, including on sustainably used wild species such as red grouse, commercial species such as trees, crops and livestock; and impacts of non-native species such as seaweeds;
  • Shifts in distributions of fish and other species, and possible effects on seabird populations as a result of increased sea temperatures;
  • Unpredictable effects of increasing ocean acidification on marine species and food webs from increased absorption of carbon dioxide;
  • Impact of climate change on hydrology affecting both flood risks and water security;
  • Challenges for the management of soils, e.g. water-logging, erosion, damage from land, crop and livestock practices that developed under historic/recent climatic conditions;
  • Risk of fluctuations in water availability to crops, stocks and industry; and
  • Potential to change or increase tree species and forested land.

Health and wellbeing

  • Both positive and negative impacts on the employment, activities, health, leisure and tourism opportunities for people living in and visiting Scotland;
  • Impacts on Scottish business, and related employment, through their supply chains and overseas markets;
  • Less cold-related illness and mortality;
  • Impacts on air quality (e.g. increased likelihood of smog or increased algal or fungal growth in buildings) which may affect respiratory conditions;
  • Longer growing seasons that may have implications for allergies;
  • Immediate and long-term health impacts caused by extreme weather events - disproportionately affecting vulnerable and high risk groups; and
  • Warmer temperatures that may encourage more outdoor recreation.
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