Scotland generally has cool summers, mild winters and rainfall throughout the year. However, our climate is changing. Over the last few decades Scotland has experienced a warming trend and shifting rainfall patterns. In future, we expect to see warmer wetter winters and hotter drier summers with more extreme events. These changes will have major implications for our way of life.
Climate is the average weather (e.g. temperature, rainfall) taken over a long period of time. Climate change is the long-term shift in climate patterns.
We know from the geological record that there have been large variations in the Earth’s climate over thousands and millions of years. However, recent change is faster than anything seen before.
Read: What is climate change?
The latest IPCC synthesis report published in March 2023, clearly states that human activities have caused global warming, with global surface temperatures increasing by 1.1 degrees Celsius in the last 150 years or so. This is already changing the climate in unprecedented and in some cases irreversible ways, damaging nature, people, communities and economies across the world.
This is driven by greenhouse gas emissions. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, raising the Earth’s surface temperature. This is known as the Greenhouse effect.
The main greenhouse gases produced by both human and natural activities are:
There are also some entirely human-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
The key sources of greenhouse gases globally are:
Natural cycles such as changes in the strength of the sun and the orbit of the earth as well as volcanic eruptions affect the temperature of the earth. However, the rapid change in climate seen over the last 250 years cannot be explained by these natural cycles alone but can be explained by a combination of natural and human-made impacts.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Climate Change 2021: The physical science basis confirms that since the late 19th century the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, amounts of snow and ice have diminished, the sea level has risen, and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased.
The data behind the figures in the report can be accessed in this dataset collection.
A regional fact sheet showing the changes expected in Europe is available.
The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming.
The report finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.
For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows.
More information on the status of key climate indicators in Europe can be found in the state of the climate in Europe 2022 report.
Temperature Change in Scotland 1884 - 2021
Click on the image to view a larger version.
2021 saw record breaking heatwaves, devastating wildfires and flooding events across the globe. This pattern continued in 2022.
Pakistan saw record-breaking heat in March and April followed by extensive flooding in July and August. China, Europe and South America experienced heatwaves, record-breaking temperatures, and wildfires. A devastating drought continues to devastate the lives of people in the Horn of Africa.
More information on the impacts of climate change can be found in the State of Climate in Europe 2022 report.
Impacts of climate change in Scotland include increases in flood risk, coastal change, damage to buildings and infrastructure, and increased prevalence of pests and diseases in the natural environment.
The Met office in collaboration with the BBC have created a climate change visualisation tool where you can find out more about climate change in your local area.
Climate change is also a key driver of the nature emergency - it is the single greatest threat to Scotland’s habitats, whether they’re found on our mountain tops or our sea beds. Some habitats will be directly affected. More often, climate change will alter the intricate ecological balances that let plants and animals grow and thrive.
Scotland has made significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; they have nearly halved since 1990.
In 2021, Scottish greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 41.6 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This is 1 MtCO2e less than 2020 (a 2.4 % increase), and 40.3 MtCO2e less than 1990 (a 49.2 % reduction).
The main contributor to the increase in emissions between 2020 and 2021 was domestic transport (+1.1 MtCO2e) following the impact of the COVID lockdown in 2020.
Since 1990, the energy supply sector has contributed most to the overall reduction (77.6 %) as coal fired power stations have closed and renewable energy generation has increased. The top 3 emitters now are domestic transport, agriculture, and business.
In 2021, carbon dioxide was the largest contributor to Scottish greenhouse gas emissions (66.0 %) followed by methane and nitrous oxide. Domestic transport was the biggest source of CO2 emissions while agriculture was the main source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
For more information see: Scottish Greenhouse Gas statistics 2021
Diagram: Sources of Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2021. Values in MtCO2e. (Scottish Greenhouse Gas statistics: 2021)
Data is being collected to assess changes in climate and measure greenhouse gas emissions and identify sources and sinks.
Across the world, people are measuring the concentration of gases in the atmosphere as well as direct emissions and sinks of greenhouse gas. Others are measuring climate variables such as temperature and rainfall, and the impacts of these variables like changes in sea level and ice cover.
From satellites to ice cores, from weather stations to water samples, the huge body of evidence collected over many years reveals the signals of a changing climate and allows more sophisticated modelling. The understanding of the climate and how it is changing is increasing all the time.
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) maintains a data catalogue for global climate data.
You can access a range of UK climate datasets from the Met Office website.
Scotland generally has cool summers, mild winters and rainfall spread throughout the year. However, there are regional differences as well as differences between seasons.
A UK temperature, rainfall and sunshine time series dataset provides measurements of climate variables across the United Kingdom since 1884. You can also view data for Scotland.
You can download and view UK Climate Projections data from the Met office website.
A series of factsheets providing an overview of results is also available
The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Inventory is the key tool for understanding the sources and magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. The latest figures available are from 2021. You can download the results of the greenhouse gas inventory.
The Met Office publishes an annual State of the UK Climate report, which summarises the UK weather and climate throughout the years. Key messages from the 2022 report are illustrated in a State of the UK Climate 2022: Summary infographic.
The WMO publishes annual statements on the status of the global climate to provide credible scientific information on climate and its variability. State of the global climate 2022.
WMO also publish a storyboard explaining the state of the global climate, how it is changing and the impacts this is having.
We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to prevent further climate change. We also need to prepare for the climate change that we cannot avoid due to our previous emissions.
Scientists use observations from the ground, air and space, along with theoretical models, to monitor and study past, present and future climate change. Climate data records provide evidence of climate change key indicators, such as global land and ocean temperature increases; rising sea levels; ice loss at Earth’s poles and in mountain glaciers; frequency and severity changes in extreme weather such as hurricanes, heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, floods and precipitation; and cloud and vegetation cover changes.
All of this data and information is brought together by the IPCC working groups who summarise the understanding of the current state of the climate, including how it is changing and the role of human influence, the state of knowledge about possible climate futures, climate information relevant to regions and sectors, and limiting human-induced climate change.
This informs the international community.
With 197 parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.
The Conference of Parties, known as COP, is the decision-making body responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the UNFCC.
The 2015 Paris Agreement (adopted at the 21st COP (COP21) in Paris in December 2015) builds on the Convention, bringing all nations together to work towards combatting climate change and adapting to its effects. Its key aim is to keep the global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The 2021 climate change conference (COP26), held in Glasgow in November 2021, resulted in the new Glasgow Climate Pact, this reaffirmed the Paris agreement goal of limiting the increase in the global average temperature.
The 2022 climate change conference COP27 reiterated the intention to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. It also established a dedicated fund for loss and damage for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate related disasters. Find out more about the five key takeaways from COP27.
Governments set targets and implement actions to reduce emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Scottish Government's Net Zero website is a one-stop shop for individuals, communities and organisations looking for information about what they can do to tackle the climate emergency, and learn more about the action that Scotland is taking, You can find out more about Scottish Government's climate change policy on their website.
The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, sets targets to reduce Scotland's emissions of all greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2045 at the latest, with interim targets for reductions of at least 56 % by 2020, 75 % by 2030 and 90 % by 2040.
The emissions reduction targets are based on the advice of the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and are regularly reviewed. The advice and progress reports to Government are available on the CCC website.
Scottish Government are currently considering the most recent CCC advice to modify the interim targets.
The Scottish Government’s climate change plan Securing a green recovery on a path to net zero: climate change plan 2018–2032 – update, sets out how Scotland can achieve the emissions reduction targets; for example, by increasing renewable energy generation, decarbonising heat in buildings, transforming transport, reducing food waste, planting more trees, restoring peatland and changing farming practices.
Compliance with emissions reduction targets is assessed against a "GHG account". The 2021 GHG account reported a 49.9% emissions reduction from baseline levels failing to meet the (2016) interim statutory target of a 51.1 % reduction for 2021.
Progress made by each sector to reduce its emissions as well as an assessment of progress against each of the individual policies and proposals are reported annually.
Scotland’s climate is already changing and despite the commitment to reduce emissions, we know that some changes to the climate in the years ahead are already inescapable due to past emissions of greenhouse gases and that these will present a wide range of threats and opportunities to the environment, infrastructure, economy and people of Scotland.
The CCC advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on preparing for climate change. It provides advice on climate change risks and opportunities and reports regularly on adaptation progress. The advice and progress reports are available on the CCC website.
The UK's third climate change risk assessment (CCRA3) was published in January 2022. This includes an assessment of priority risks and opportunities for the devolved governments.
the Scottish Government will develop an adaptation programme based on CCRA3, likely to be published in 2024.
In the meantime the second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme (2019 – 2024) continues to be valid. It addresses the risks set out in the previous UK climate change risk assessment (CCRA2) and sets out policies and proposals to prepare Scotland for the challenges ahead.
Scottish Ministers report annually on progress towards achieving the objectives and implementing the proposals and policies set out in the SCCAP.
The CCC published an Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk in June 2021 to provide advice for CCRA3. This report suggested the nation’s efforts to adapt to climate change was not keeping pace with the impacts of a warming planet and the increased range of climate risks this brings to the UK.
A summary of climate risks and opportunities for Scotland highlighted that the risk of flooding to people, communities and buildings remained among the most severe risks for Scotland and is the costliest hazard to businesses. Flooding remains a key risk to infrastructure, and water scarcity in summer is an issue, particularly for private water supplies. Climate change also continues to affect the natural and marine environment across Scotland, as well as its agriculture and forestry, landscapes and regulating services such as pollination. High temperatures also have the potential to affect a wide range of health and social outcomes. Interactions between risks are also increasingly recognised.
A series of sector specific briefings summarise the risks to key sectors.
A number of Scottish Local Authorities have unveiled plans for how they will reduce emissions, adapt to climate change and achieve net zero. For example:
As part of the legacy of COP26, a range of case studies showcasing how councils across Scotland are tackling climate change has been published.
This page was updated on 26 Jul 2023
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ClimateXChange - provides independent advice, research and analysis to support the Scottish Government as it develops and implements policies on adapting to the changing climate and the transition to a low carbon society.
Committee on Climate Change - an independent, statutory body established to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.
Scottish Forestry (SF) - has a 50 year vision and 10 year framework to action, expand, protect and enhance Scotland’s forests and woodlands to help deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits to Scotland’s people. the creation of new forests and woodlands is an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the Climate Change Plan includes commitments to incrementally increase the annual woodland creation target from 10 000 to 15 000 ha per year by 2024/25. At the same time, the existing resource must be managed sustainably to preserve the carbon sink and support the development of a low carbon economy.
Historic Environment Scotland - is working on projects to mitigate emissions from our own operations, adapt our buildings and make our activities more sustainable. The organisation also supports the public and partners by providing advice and publishing research on measures to: improve energy efficiency in traditional buildings; adapt traditional buildings to the changing climate.
Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) - works with organisations and communities to help change behaviour to reduce carbon emissions, improve local areas and help people to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Met Office - the UK's national weather service and a centre of excellence in weather and climate science.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) - works with the Scottish and UK governments and the other UK environmental regulators to implement and enforce national legislation and European directives that aim to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency. SEPA also participates in the development and revision of guidance, policy and legislation to tackle climate change.
NatureScot - Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world. It presents a huge challenge to Scotland's nature.
Sustainable Scotland Network (SSN) - works to improve Scottish public sector performance on sustainability and climate change. The Network is supported and coordinated by Keep Scotland Beautiful.
The Scottish Government - recognises climate change will have far reaching effects on Scotland’s economy, its people and its environment and is determined to play its part in tackling climate change.