By William Angus
22nd March 2022
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month was a project five years in the making. Since the previous report, governance and public attitudes have shifted. The IPCC has noted there will be many climate developments in the UK that will require attention in coming years, calling for immediate national action now.
In the leadup to COP26, a study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 75% of adults in the UK were worried about the impact the climate crisis will have in future. This article explores the IPCC report in detail and analyses the potential impact of these developments on Scotland, noting five key vicissitudes.
① – The Scottish Winter
The report confirmed that large-scale deteriorations were expected in snow cover and the winter season in Europe. However, these changes only build on what has already been occurring across the continent. Permafrost and glaciers in Scandinavia, the Caucasus and the Alps have lost a portion of their size in the last 20 years. Without availing action, the end of the 21st Century could see further losses of mass reaching 60-80% of the current size.
Natural snow cover below 1500m will be severely affected as global warming increases, which would include every Scottish ski resort. Once global warming increases by 2°C from its current level, skiing at resorts in Scotland without snowmaking facilities will be impossible. It is then up to the resorts to fund and expand their snowmaking facilities.
However, expanding these facilities increases water and energy consumption, which could mean more costs on the environment. Resorts are working to clear this carbon footprint, with schemes such as hydroelectric power at Nevis Range and the long-standing wind turbine at the Lecht potentially subsiding some of these expenditures in the future.
Without Scottish skiing, the economy would lose upwards of £30 million per year and over 1000 jobs. The further revenue and economic benefit from tourism in the mountains would also be lost, hurting local economies surrounding the resorts.
② – The Scottish Coastline
Scotland’s shorelines would be at risk of seismic shifts in the next few years should the climate crisis remain unchecked. Scotland and the UK would be one of the most affected areas in sea level rise (coming after more at-risk places such as the Netherlands and Denmark). Once global warming reaches 4°C, the report anticipates sandy Scottish beaches will have retreated by up to 100m due to erosion through sea-level rise.
The balance in habitat space between land and marine ecosystems will be shifted, leaving both systems vulnerable to dramatic environmental changes above a 2°C rise in global warming. Fishing communities in Scotland are particularly susceptible, as the North Sea will face a 15-35% loss of yield in sustainable fishing. Fishing in the central belt is one of the highest risk areas to lose production in the whole of Europe. Salmon fishing and farming is highly sensitive to temperature and oxygen change in water as was noted in Norway, inferring that the industry would be irreversibly changed in Scotland should global warming reach certain temperatures.
Solutions to the coastline issue have been hypothesised, but current developments are reactive rather than preventive. The Thames Barrier in London and the Maeslant Barrier in the Netherlands are examples of reactive solutions to harsh climate effects. Certain areas in Scotland are also under threat of sea level rises and other disruption, so similar solutions will have to be considered should climate deterioration continue.
③ – Scottish Farming
Scottish farming employs over 67,000 people and generates £2.9 billion in economic revenue per year. 1 in 10 Scottish jobs relies on the industry, making it one of the most integral workforces for the Scottish economy.
In contrast, Scottish farming is also facing climate disruption in most of Europe. However, its development into a more temperate climate means these effects will not be as drastic as other areas such as the Mediterranean, which will become even hotter. The IPCC report predicts there could be gains in agriculture in northern Europe due to the increased temperatures strengthening crop yield. However, the heat and drought in the south will have caused enough disruption to mean this slight growth will not be able to sustain the continent.
Scotland will also face more extreme weather,including greater rainfall, which will increase soil erosivity and accelerate landscape-altering geological movements. Should global warming levels grow further, agricultural losses across the continent are projected to rise in the second half of the 21st Century.
Scotland will also be at risk of ‘sub-tropicalization’ or the shift towards a more tropical ecosystem. As the Earth warms above 3°C, species of plants and animals that live comfortably in the normal continental conditions will not be able to adapt fast enough as the climate around them changes rapidly.
The worst affected group will be insects, with their unique ecosystems across Europe expected to maintain just 20% of their typical ecology. Life from more tropical environments may come to inhabit these new areas, leading to further climate disruption. As the crisis develops, organisations like the Eden Project, which houses rainforest biomes within the UK, will become more important in their research into these ecosystems. Recently, a second Eden Project facility was granted planning permission earlier this year highlighting the importance of research into this sector.
④ – Erosion of Scotland’s History
Scotland has a rich cultural history that sits to be irreversibly changed should global warming levels continue to rise. There are many precarious cultural sites that are at risk from temperature sea level rises, including two of the internationally recognised UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The IPCC report recognises the permanent changes that could occur to Scottish culture in the coming years.
St Kilda, on the west coast of Scotland is home to a rich history of independent island life, with a unique bird population of more than one million seabirds. With the climate rising, this unique ecosystem may be at risk of losing their bird population as they travel further north for more habitable temperatures.
In Orkney, a host of neolithic sites will be at risk from the turbulent environmental shifts Orkney will undergo if the climate crisis is left unchecked. Sites such as the Skara Brae prehistoric village or stones at the Ring of Brodgar will be heavily affected. An expected 42% increase in rainfall during winter months and an 18% loss of rainfall during summer months would leave the sites exposed to more extreme conditions requiring a more significant cost of protecting the island will struggle to afford.
⑤ – The Landscape the IPCC Report Sits in- Forcing Action
While the IPCC report builds a concrete case for direct action in solving climate change, there is an action planned or already in place that does offer some carbon-neutral benefit. This article has covered several examples, such as localised renewable power, state of the art flood defences and sustainable habitat organisations such as the Eden Project.
The report identifies that global events and national campaigns have motivated governments to accelerate climate developments. Progress on policy such as the European New Green Deal and Build Back Better, they argue, has been accelerated due to seismic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The Scottish government anticipates both the development of current industries and the creation of new ones as Scotland becomes more technology focused to reach a net zero carbon future.
The sixth IPCC report has provided a deep insight into where the Earth could find itself soon should little action be taken to solve the climate crisis. In Scotland, almost every aspect of the country will be altered somehow, sometimes drastically. However, there are roads to limiting global warming, which may see some of these aspects preserved or saved to be enjoyed by generations to come.