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Developing capacity to understand and use climate projections for Scotland

The challenge of envisioning the future climate of Scotland has been made easier due to a new set of climate change projections for the UK (UKCP18). Climate change is likely to substantially alter many aspects of our lives, our environment and economy. Therefore, it cuts across many policy domains and all sectors. The new projections present an opportunity for improving our ability to research climate change impacts, plan for adaptation and explore opportunities for mitigation and adaptation.

At a recent SEFARI Gateway Responsive Opportunity Funded workshop (in March), researchers met with individuals from the Scottish Government and agencies, local authorities and the private sector to discuss the UKCP18 and how the benefits of its use in Scotland may be improved through collaboration. There was recognition that the UKCP18 is a substantial resource to support all sectors in preparing for climate change, but that its use is challenging, and in this blog Dr Mike Rivington from the James Hutton Institute explores the concept of developing a ‘UKCP18 Scotland User Group’ to help facilitate collaboration for improved understand and sharing of knowledge.

The benefit of hindsight is that we can learn from our experiences, but history is not always a good guide to the future. The benefit of foresight, as provided by projections of a future climate, is that we can explore the range of conditions we might experience and better prepare to reduce risks and benefit from opportunities.

In November 2018 the UK Meteorological Office released a new set of climate projections for the UK, called UKCP18, which follow on from previous releases in 2002 and 2009. These projections are estimates of the future climate under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and form the basis for climate change impacts assessment and adaptation planning. They help decision-makers assess their risk exposure to climate and are used by a wide range of researchers, practitioners and policy teams across many social and environmental subjects, e.g. health, transport, agriculture, flood risk management etc.

The UKCP18 is supported by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The projections arise from the use of global and regional scale climate models simulating land, ocean and climate processes for different emissions scenarios. They are based on a global scale cooperation in the World Climate Research Programme (CMIP6). Whilst the UKCP18 is a remarkable resource to help prepare for climate change, using them can be challenging and raises many questions.

For example, they cover five emission scenarios, so which one should we use? They cover multiple spatial and temporal scales, so which ones are best for a particular issue? There may be issues of accuracy and utility, so how best to evaluate the data?

These graphs are an example of UKCP18 information. It shows the future temperature increases are highly dependent on the emissions pathways. This graph illustrates the differences between low (left) and high emissions (right). Currently we are on the high emissions rate trajectory (RCP8.5, red) leading to a risk of a 4°C+ rise in temperature by the end of the century. With appropriate mitigation efforts we could reduce emissions (RCP2.6, blue) and reduce temperature rise risks to a 1.5°C increase.

For many stakeholders the main issue is how can the data be used to produce information for a particular research question, application or policy need? Whilst the UKCP18 website provides valuable information and the Met Office has an enquiry service to help users, still access, use and interpretation is a challenge for those unfamiliar with the projections. I felt perhaps the best approach to learning would be by using the projection data alongside others and sharing our knowledge.

Hence, I recently ran a workshop to bring together stakeholders from research, policy, agencies, local authorities and the private sector to discuss the use of the projections and whether there is a need for some form of supported medium for collaboration – a ‘UKCP18 User Group’.