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When viewed over long-term averages, we expect the UK to experience more milder wetter winters and more hotter drier summers in the future. These changes in climate and their effect on our weather will have major implications for our way of life.

Key messages

  • The world's climate is changing. Since the late 1800s, the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, amounts of snow and ice have diminished, the sea level has risen, and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased.

YouTube: NASA - Climate change and global warming data visualisation

  • People are causing this rapid change in climate mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions:
    • Water vapour (H2O)
    • carbon dioxide (CO2)
    • nitrous oxide (N2O)
    • methane (CH4)
    • ozone (O3).
  • These are formed as a result of natural and human activities. There are also a number of entirely human-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

Greenhouse effect: Met Office - State of the UK climate

  • While the recent rapid change in climate can be attributed to human activities, the climate has also changed throughout geological time, well before people were around. This is known as natural climate variability and is due to a number of factors, including:
  • Scotland’s climate is already changing. The climate will continue to change in the future and this will present a wide range of threats and opportunities to the environment, infrastructure, economy and people of Scotland.
  • The key climate change risks and opportunities for Scotland, as set out the in UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence Report – Summary for Scotland, include:
    • Natural environment and natural Assets – Climate change poses risks to Scotland’s soils, natural carbon stores, agriculture, wildlife and coastal habitats and seas. More action is needed to manage these risks. More evidence is also needed to fully characterise other climate change risks and opportunities that are likely to be important for Scotland, including changes in agricultural and forestry productivity and land suitability, as well as impacts on freshwater and marine ecosystems.
    • Infrastructure - Infrastructure in Scotland is exposed to a range of climate hazards. Impacts on some assets have the potential to cascade on to others as part of interdependent networks. Flooding poses the greatest long-term risk to infrastructure performance from climate change, but the growing risks from heat, water scarcity and slope instability caused by severe weather could be significant.
    • People and the built environment - There are potential health benefits from warmer winters in Scotland, but more action is needed to manage current risks to people from cold temperatures through addressing fuel poverty.
    • Business and industry - Flooding and extreme weather events which damage assets and disrupt business operations pose the greatest risk to Scottish businesses now and in the future. This could be compounded by a lack of adaptive capacity. New regulations or other government intervention made necessary by climate change also pose an indirect risk to businesses
    • International dimensions - Climate change will impact upon water security, agricultural production and economic resources around the world. These impacts can compound vulnerability in other countries, which can in turn exacerbate risks from conflict, migration, and humanitarian crises. The main risks arising for the UK from climate change overseas are through impacts on the food system, economic interests abroad, and increased demand for humanitarian aid.

Met office - What is climate change? infographic

The infographic explores the difference between weather and climate, what drives our climate and how our climate is changing - View the full infographic at the Met Office - What is climate change?

YouTube: What is climate? - Met Office climate change guide

YouTube: What is climate change? - Met Office climate change guide

YouTube: How does the climate system work?

Data

Scotland’s Climate

The Met Office has separated Scotland into three climatic zones – Northern, Eastern and Western – describing the main features of each region’s climate.

Regional weather summaries and data download of the time-series monthly, seasonal and annual regional values are also available from the Met Office.

Scotland’s climate trends

View Scotland’s climate trends data below.

View the full data analysis application for further detail

Scottish climate projections

The UK Climate Change Projections (UKCP09) are available showing indications of likely scenarios. More recent UK Climate Change Projections (UKCP18) are also available that provide the latest indications of the likely scenarios for Scotland's projected climate.

Scottish greenhouse gas emissions 2016

The Official statistics publication for Scotland "Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016" was published in June 2018 and contains the results of the Scottish greenhouse gas inventory for 1990-2016. A key tool for understanding the origins and magnitudes of the emissions and the assessment of policies designed to control or reduce emissions.

Sources of Scottish greenhouse gas emissions, 2014. Values in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e).

Global climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report Climate Change 2013: The physical science basis confirms that since the late 19th century the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, amounts of snow and ice have diminished, the sea level has risen, and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased.

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since.

ClimateXChange have produced three short briefs that summarise the reports on:

NASA conducts a program of breakthrough research on climate science. It runs programs to obtain and convert data from Defense Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites as well as from some European, Japanese and Russian satellites. NASA also sponsors field experiments to provide "ground truth" data to check space instrument performance and to develop new measurement.

Taking a global perspective on Earth's climate – NASA Global Climate Change: Vital signs of the plant.

NASA has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.

View NASA Global Climate Data

What are we doing?

International agreements

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 2015 Paris Agreement 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. To date (March 2019) 185 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement.

Setting targets

The Climate Change Plan is the Scottish Government’s third report on proposals and policies for meeting its climate change targets.  It sets out how Scotland can achieve its target of 66 % emissions reductions relative to the 1990 baseline, for the period 2018-2032. The Climate Change Plan is a requirement of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

Adaptation

YouTube: UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 - Urgent priorities for the UK

The SCCAP policies and proposals have clear objectives and timelines. ClimateXChange have developed adaptation indicators to assess how well Scotland is doing against these objectives.

Scottish Ministers report annually on progress towards achieving the objectives and implementing the proposals and policies set out in the SCCAP.

The “Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme: An independent assessment” report was prepared in 2016 by the UK Committee on Climate Change for the Scottish Parliament.

Mitigation

Scotland’s soils

Scotland’s soils contain large amounts of organic matter and form a significant carbon store. Losing just 0.5% of our soil carbon in a year as carbon dioxide, would double our annual greenhouse gas emissions. It is important to manage soils carefully to ensure the carbon stays in the soils and does not escape into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.

View the distribution of carbon and peatland classes across the whole of Scotland on Scotland’s soils website.

The Scottish Government has developed a tool to calculate the carbon savings from wind farms on Scottish peatlands.

Scotland’s National Peatland Plan (2015) - highlights the major contribution peatlands make to Scotland.

Peatlands in good condition actively form peat, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing carbon in the soil. Conversely, degraded peatlands may emit more CO2 than they remove and become a net source of greenhouse gases (GHG).  Peatland restoration is therefore encouraged to help remove GHG from the atmosphere and combat climate change. The Scottish Government's Climate Change Plan sets targets to restore 50,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2020, increasing to 250,000 hectares by 2030. The Peatland ACTION project is helping to restore damaged peatlands in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has developed a tool to assess the carbon impact of wind farm developments,  to help support the process of determining wind farm developments in Scotland.

Farming for a better climate – provides practical support to benefit the farm and help reduce our impact on the climate. Taking action as a sector, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to a changing climate, will secure farm viability for future generations.

Businesses

NetRegs - provides regulatory advice and guidance for Small to Medium Size Enterprises (SME’s) on carbon reduction and efficiency.

Policy and legislation

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 makes a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 with an interim target of a 42% cut by 2020 . The Act sets a framework for action in Scotland to reduce emissions as well as adapt to a changing climate.

To find out more about Scottish primary and secondary climate change legislation, see – Climate change legislation.

SEPA regulates a wide range of industries and organisations whose activities generate emissions of greenhouse gases. SEPA is Scotland’s national flood forecasting, flood warning and strategic flood risk management authority.


This page was last updated on 03 Oct 2016

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Pages we suggest

Useful external links

Useful contacts

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 an ambitious target to extend woodland cover in Scotland by an additional 100,000ha over the period 2012-2022. This would lock up around 4 million tonnes of extra carbon dioxide by 2027, whilst also providing a range of other environmental, economic and social benefits.

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.

Resource Efficient Scotland - offers free advice and technical support as well as the sharing of best practices and new technologies. Embedding resource efficiency within Scottish organisations makes a significant contribution to the achievement of the Scottish Government’s strategic economic objectives, climate change, energy efficiency and zero waste targets.

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.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) - works with others to reduce climate change impacts of managing land and sea, safeguarding nature, enjoying the outdoors.

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.