Scotland’s climate changing faster than predicted, analysis shows

SCOTLAND’S climate is changing faster than predicted, with more frequent and extreme weather events increasingly likely, new analysis shows.

Experts at Aberdeen’s James Hutton Institute, an independent research organisation, say weather patterns in Scotland have changed substantially since 1960.

They also found changes that were expected to be seen over the next three decades are already happening.

In some parts of the country, temperatures in February, for example, have risen 2.5°C, from an average 16.9°C in the period 1960-1989 to 19.4°C during the three decades 1990-2019.

Dr Mike Rivington of The James Hutton Institute
Dr Mike Rivington led the institute’s research.

This observed change is comparable to the lower range of what climate scientists had projected for the future period 2020-2050, implying we are on course to reach the projections of higher temperatures.

The research, carried out for the Scottish Government, includes a warning that increased water scarcity could impact crop productivity, change ecosystem functions and undermine efforts to restore greenhouse gas-emitting peatlands in some areas with central and eastern uplands particularly at risk.

The trends of increased warming and reduced rainfall in the spring and summer will also increase wildfire risk.

The warning comes as the UK, including Scotland, experienced its hottest June on record while July was cited as the world’s hottest recorded month and 2023 will be the warmest year on record.

The daily global sea surface temperature also broke records at the beginning of August.

Antarctic sea ice coverage reached a record low with associated threats of altered ocean currents, whilst Arctic sea ice also continues to decline, indicating a substantial detrimental change in the way Earth’s temperature is regulated.

The research is set out in two reports delivered to the Scottish Government: Climate Trends and Future Projections in Scotland and Climate Extremes in Scotland.

The reports look at past trends, but also what we can expect, based on a range of 12 climate projections out to 2080.

They show that Scotland has also already experienced more rainfall during winter than had been projected. 

Between 1990 to 2019, February and to a lesser extent April have become wetter, particularly in the west, by up to 60%, exceeding the projected change by 2050 of 45-55%.

In terms of temperature, for Scotland overall, the reports point to Scotland exceeding a 2°C increase in temperature by the 2050s, with the months from May to November experiencing up to 4°C of warming over the next three decades (2020-2049).

The number of days of consecutive dry weather – an indicator for drought and wildfire risk – are also expected to increase in drier months, such as September.

Dr Mike Rivington, senior scientist at The James Hutton Institute, said: “We are now in the midst of climate breakdown: our ecosystems that regulate the climate and enable food production are degrading and are at risk of collapse, whilst we continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions driving further warming.

“There has never been a more important time to understand the scale of the threat and how fast we need to act.

“The acceleration of climate change and biodiversity loss on a global scale could push us beyond key tipping points, which if crossed will be irreversible.

“The fact that we have already experienced some of the projected changes in Scotland’s climate suggests that climate change is happening faster.

“This will have global impacts, affecting trade and undermining the stability of economies and at the same time reducing our own capacity to adapt, for example, homegrown food and the water and energy and nature-based services we get from today’s ecosystems.”

Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, said: “These findings underline that the climate emergency is not a distant threat – it is with us today.

“Storms have battered Scotland in recent months and 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record.

“The impacts of climate change are affecting families, communities and businesses across Scotland.

“That is why we are taking action to make Scotland more resilient in the face of a changing climate.”