Adaptation FAQs

What is climate change adaptation?

The Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme defines adaptation as ‘The adjustment in economic, social or natural systems in response to actual or expected climatic change, to limit harmful consequences and exploit beneficial opportunities’ (SCCAP 2014, page 5).

It is important to bear in mind that there are two aspects to adaptation:

  • Adapting to present climate or weather
  • Adapting to future climate change

What is the difference between mitigation and adaptation?

Mitigation is about reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere in order to slow or stop global climate change. This involves using your car less, flying less, buying local food, refurbishing boilers to make them more efficient and reducing your energy consumption. For more information about action that you can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions visit

Adaptation is about adjusting to the impacts of climate change to reduce the negative impacts and exploit any opportunities. This might include having an on-site power generator in case of disruption to the network, tiling flooring or removing carpets from accommodation that are at risk of flooding, relocating vulnerable buildings, whether because of their usage or because they are at risk from coastal erosion, or building sea walls to protect infrastructure.

Why should we adapt to climate change?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warming of the climate system is unequivocal with human influence as the dominant cause since the mid-20th century. This relates to warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, changes in the global water cycle, reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and to changes in some climate extremes. And we are already seeing evidence of Scotland’s climate changing. Over the last few decades our climate has warmed, sea-levels have risen, rainfall patterns have changed and we have been impacted by extreme weather events. Temperatures have been increasing, with the last decade being the warmest since records began. Rainfall has also been increasing in Scotland over the last thirty years, with more heavy downpours. The climate projections for the next century indicate that the climate trends observed over the last century will continue and intensify over the coming decades. Adaptation is therefore crucial to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change to which we are already committed. It will also help us take advantage of any opportunities that arise.

What are we adapting to?

The climate projections for the next century indicate that the climate trends observed over the last century will continue and intensify over the coming decades. We can expect future changes in climate to be far greater than anything we have seen in the past.

The key long-term climate change trends for Scotland are:

  • Weather will remain variable, it may become more variable
  • Typical summer is hotter and drier
  • Typical winter / autumn is milder and wetter
  • Sea level rise

We can also expect to see:

  • Increase in summer heat waves, extreme temperatures and drought
  • Increased frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events
  • Reduced occurrence of frost and snowfall

Read about the main climate impacts we can expect in Scotland.

What types of adaptation actions exist?

Adaptation actions are often described as either Building the Adaptive Capacity (BAC) of an organisation, such as raising awareness of adaptation through training programmes, or Delivering Adaptation Actions such as building a new flood protection scheme or implementing a process for managed retreat from sea level rise.

Our Climate Ready Places resource provides examples of adaptation actions across different Scottish landscapes.

When should I adapt? (Taken from UKCIP)

Taking early action to build adaptive capacity through actions such as training, awareness raising and guidance, will help you to take the right on the ground actions at the right time.

If you are already experiencing problems with climate-related impacts, you may wish to take action to address those risks straight away.

If you are considering a project with a long lifespan, it is crucial that you take account of climate change as early as possible in the decision-making process. It is much cheaper and easier to incorporate adaptation options at the design stage than to introduce them late in the planning process, or after an asset has been built. Other factors that will determine the time frame for your adaptation plan include how soon you expect any critical thresholds to be exceeded, and the lead-in time for planning and implementing adaptation measures.

Remember that proactive adaptation is generally more effective and less costly than reactive adaptation.

What is the Climate Change Assessment Tool or CCAT?

The Climate Change Assessment Tool (CCAT) helps public sector organisations in Scotland self-evaluate their performance under the public sector duties of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Developed by Resource Efficient Scotland, the tool is divided into Governance, Emissions, Adaptation, Behaviour and Procurement. The outputs of using the tool is a score and an action plan for each section. Obtaining an adaptation score is a useful way to establish a baseline on which to improve over time and review your annual progress.

How does the Public Sector Guidance align with the Public Bodies Duties Climate Change Reports?

Adaptation Scotland’s new Public Sector Guidance will help organisations progress their adaptation work which can be recorded within Public Bodies Climate Change Reports. The tasks within the new guidance and the Adaptation Capability Framework which directly relate to questions within the Public Bodies Climate Change reporting questionnaire are summarised in document here.