Climate change adaptation: Setting the challenge

The European Climate Change Adaptation Conference in Glasgow at the start of June gathered over 850 academics, practitioners, policy makers and businesses from UK, Europe and further afield.

The conference is the third of it’s kind and the first time there was a dedicated business day in the programme.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, gave the opening address:

I am delighted to be sharing the platform today with the European Commission, the IPCC, WaterAid and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

I am particularly delighted at the European Commission’s strong presence at this international conference.

Also today we’ll hear from Baroness Brown of Cambridge, the new Chair of the UK Adaptation Committee, Scotland’s Young Climate Leaders 2050 Group and many other dedicated and expert contributions.

On behalf of the Scottish Government, and the people of Scotland, let me extend to all of you the very warmest welcome to Glasgow.

This is a city with a long and proud industrial heritage.   It’s a city that was built on the River Clyde and the industrial revolution.  It is now committed to transformation: to placing sustainability, climate resilience and social justice at the heart of its vision for the future.

Across Scotland in recent years we have been seeing a new re-industrialisation of our economy, but it’s a re-industrialisation along green lines.

We are seeing the clear benefits of the transition to the low carbon economy:  investment, jobs, trade and growth, and the regeneration of our communities.

We are delighted that so many of you have travelled from across the world to be with us in Glasgow to make this a truly global gathering of world-class expertise on climate adaptation.

The work we have to do is now more important than ever before.  We have serious business, but we hope this week in Glasgow will also be both enjoyable and memorable.

I know that many of you were at the civic reception at the Glasgow City Chambers last night, and will enjoy the poster reception tonight. Tomorrow night you’ll get a chance to dance at the fabulous Kelvingrove Art Gallery , and I know there are some fantastic excursions planned for Thursday and Friday.

USA Withdrawal from Paris Agreement

Before I go any further let me say something about President Trump’s decision last week to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement.

The decision is an abdication of the moral duty towards the younger generation and the poor and vulnerable around the world.

Climate change is an environmental threat to the whole planet.

When Ban-Ki Moon spoke, as the then UN Secretary-General, at the Paris conference, he called climate change “the defining challenge of our time”.

The global community should have been entitled to look to the USA, the world’s most powerful nation, for leadership on such an important issue.

In fact, it was US leadership, and their partnership with China, that made the Paris Agreement possible in 2015.

Despite all the representations that have been made, and the hard economic case in favour of the low carbon economy, the US Administration has, at least for the time being, turned its back on the climate change agenda.

As the old saying has it: “you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”.

But I think it has been particularly inspiring to see the huge groundswell of support for the Paris Agreement from Europe and China, from nations worldwide, from the very many progressive US States and cities, from big business, and from global civic society.

The rest of the world is doubling-down on its commitment.

I am sure no-one here today failed to be moved in admiration for President Macron of France when he caught the mood of the moment by declaring: “Let’s make our planet great again”.

In Scotland we too continue with very our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement and our commitment to demonstrating leadership at the highest level.  The First Minister was at the Paris climate conference and she has forthrightly condemned last week’s decision  She spoke at the Arctic Circle Assembly last year about climate change.  In April she gave our clear support to the progressive movement in the US by signing a cooperation agreement with Governor Jerry Brown of California which will see Scotland and California working together to fight climate change. Together we will continue to press for high global ambition and make the case for climate justice.

Scotland remains firmly committed to championing climate justice.  We know that the countries and communities which have done least to cause climate change, and the people who are least equipped to cope with its consequences, are the ones who are being hit hardest.

In addition, the individuals affected by climate change are often the very young, the very old, the ill, and the very poor.  Women are suffering disproportionately, since they are often the main providers of food, fuel and water.

In 2012, Scotland became the first national government in the world to establish a Climate Justice Fund to support our partner developing countries – and we wanted the initial focus to be on climate adaptation.

Because of Scotland’s water expertise, the Fund began by supporting 11 water adaptation projects in four sub-Saharan African countries.

The fund is small in terms of the scale of the global problem – £3 million per year – tiny, in fact, but it makes a significant difference to the communities where it operates.

Our Adaptation Programme has been a natural home for early work on domestic climate justice.  A recent study, which maps flood disadvantaged neighbourhoods, recognises that some areas across Scotland are impacted disproportionately by flooding.  This work is helping our environment protection agency ensure that social vulnerability is a key part of future flood risk assessments.

New Projects: International Climate Adaptation

We want to share our experience on climate adaption and climate justice so we will be providing an extra £100,000 annually to help us achieve that.

This will include community level initiatives which will help build agriculture skills for small scale farmers in Africa facing climate challenges.  This will provide a lasting legacy for these farmers helping them to anticipate and cope with climate related challenges.

Scottish Mitigation Achievements

I just want to take a minute to talk briefly about Scotland’s achievements on climate mitigation, because these are so important in showing how real the Paris Agreement is.

Scotland has a proven track-record on climate change. We are justifiably proud that the 2016 annual report from the Compact of States and Regions showed Scotland leading a group of six major states and regions who exceeded their 2020 emissions target levels several years ahead of schedule.

Back in 2009, Scotland set a target of a 42% emissions reduction by 2020 compared to 1990.  At the time it was the most ambitious legal target anywhere in the world.  And it was unanimously agreed by all members of the Scottish Parliament. We deliberately set a goal that we thought would be difficult – in fact we thought it was probably unachievable.  But we actually exceeded the target level in 2014 – six years ahead of schedule.  We are committed to going further in our new climate change plan – reducing emissions by 66% by 2032 on 1990 levels.

Deep emissions cuts are possible, and we can do so while growing the economy.  However, we cannot be complacent about adaptation.

Scottish Adaptation Challenges

Scotland does not expect to experience the severe climate impacts that many other parts of the world face.  But we will have challenges and we have had an adaptation programme alongside our mitigation programme since 2009.

We have been raising awareness, building capacity and forming active stakeholder groups.

We have representatives from across Scottish Government, working with others that are responsible for research, innovation and delivery of policy. This includes our specialist agencies, new national centre for resilience, universities, planning authorities and water industry.

And we have new projects specifically targeted at different  adaptation challenges, including our climate change indicators and National Coastal Change Assessment, which we will develop further.

Notwithstanding that, last year we commissioned an independent assessment of the scale of the challenge we still face.

The Report said: “Scotland’s iconic industries including timber and whisky, and its fisheries, rely on the abundance of climate-sensitive natural resources.  The projected changes in weather patterns combined with sea level rise, will test the nation’s transport, communication, fuel and energy networks and challenge the delivery of health and social care services”.

So again, it is those things that we hold to be most iconic as well as core economic activities, that are at risk.  It’s a very stark and striking message underlining the scale of the challenge.

In an area like natural heritage, which is a very important asset to Scotland, despite our efforts there is a sense that we will have to run faster just to stand still.

Encouragingly, whatever the challenges, I should say the report said we were making good progress and also pointed out opportunities for Scottish businesses investing in the products, services and new technologies that will be needed to adapt urban areas and grow rural economies in Scotland.

In Scotland we see partnerships as key.  No single organisation, business or community can adapt to climate change alone.  We are all dependent on and influenced by the decisions of others and need to work together to adapt.

An excellent example of partnership working can be seen right here in and around Glasgow.

Climate Ready Clyde partners are today launching a collaborative adaptation partnership which will deliver a risk assessment, strategy and action plan for the City Region.

The City Region is an area where 1.8 million people live, work and play.  It contains Scotland’s largest city.  At its core the River Clyde, historically, the largest seaport in Britain, known throughout the world through its transatlantic trade and shipbuilding, has undergone significant regeneration.

The Scottish Government supported the partnership initiative by providing £100,000 start-up funding.  We are also now providing up to £40,000 for a regional study on the economic impacts of climate change and a toolkit to appraise climate risk for major projects.

Edinburgh Adapts, a similar partnership launched this year on a city scale, and a new project In Aberdeen, also serve as exemplars.

Successful adaptation requires innovation and business collaboration, and I would encourage delegates to take advantage of the conference’s integral business and innovation days.

We are looking forward to the award of the £20,000 Glasgow Resilience Innovation Challenge at the end of the Innovation Day.

EU Exit 

In Scotland we want to learn from best practice from around the world.

Scotland is committed to internationalism.   We like the idea of independent countries working together for a common good.

People in Scotland voted clearly – by 62% to 38% – to remain in the EU.

We have welcomed the EU’s practical benefits – free trade, free movement; social and environmental protections.

And on some issues – and climate change is a good example – 28 independent nations working together have a bigger impact than one on its own.  European Union climate diplomacy has over many years played an important role in influencing the talks towards a successful conclusion.
Scotland will do everything we can to remain an open, inclusive and welcoming nation – working with our neighbours, playing a positive role in the world, and strengthening rather than weakening our partnerships with other nations. Our friendships and partnerships with the countries around us matter deeply to us. We will not allow them to be damaged by Brexit.


The challenge I would set for you over the next few days is to grasp the opportunity to engage, share experiences and forge links.  This is the perfect opportunity to create a lasting legacy of knowledge-sharing, collaboration and partnership working.

The global community must prepare for the further inevitable changes in climate.  Delaying or failing to take action only increase the costs and risks and multiply climate injustice.

The time to act on climate change is now.

The time for all countries to work together is now.

By acting now we will meet the challenge and ensure that the worst impacts of climate change do not fall on the global poor and vulnerable and future generations.


Read about how Scotland showcased our partnership approach at ECCA 2017


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