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Climate change impacts on natural capital

Challenges

Natural capital (NC) refers to a concept or framing of the stocks and flows of services that nature provides to society. NC underpins all aspects of Human life and our economies through the delivery of ecosystem services (ES), often described as our ‘life support systems’. Biodiversity, as a key set of NC assets, is essential to enable the functional ability of ecosystems to provide services. However, NC is increasingly at risk from climate change, which is impacting biodiversity and ecosystem functions, jeopardising the supply of ES and reducing the potential for Nature-based Solutions (NBS) for mitigation and adaptation. The differentiated impacts of climate change on the many types of assets that make up Scotland’s Natural Capital is likely to determine how species, ecosystems and landscapes function and provide ES. Of particular concern is that the potential for ecosystems to mitigate climate change is reduced, or worse, change means assets increase greenhouse gas emissions.

To avoid this damaging feedback loop and improve our management and use of NC, we must increase our understanding of what the impacts of climate change are likely to be on NC assets, and how ES are affected. This is needed to improve planning and decision-making to protect and enhance ecosystems and maintain ES to continue supporting societal economic and well-being development. Detailed information is needed to help realise the potential for NC to enable Scotland to achieve net-zero emissions with the help of NBS.

Questions

  • Under different climate change scenarios, which natural assets are most at risk from climate change?
  • In what ways will climate change affect the ability of our natural assets to provide ecosystem services? How do these risks vary by location within Scotland?
  • Moving beyond the carbon sequestration potential of peatland restoration and woodland creation - which natural assets provide the biggest opportunities to tackle the negative impacts of climate change?

Solutions

We assess the risks and opportunities for Scotland's natural resources caused by climate change. We combine existing knowledge, data, and analytical tools with new developments in methodology, data sources, and computing to create a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of climate change on natural resources. This includes using both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the risks from various perspectives, including physical, environmental, and social.

 

Framework Development

This project is developing a framework that can evaluate a wide range of natural resource types. We use biophysical modelling and new approaches to natural resource risk assessment in combination with data on biodiversity, water, and soils. We also consider how people perceive these risks and how they might affect the supply of essential ecosystem services.

 

Impact Assessment 

We prioritise the most vulnerable and important natural resources, such as soils, water, peatlands (linked to the CentrePeat project), woodlands, and arable land. The project links to research on land use, large-scale modelling, and the impacts of climate change on agriculture, as well as water drought risk and hydrology assessments.

 

Risk perceptions 

The project examines the threats to natural resources caused by climate change, including extreme weather and changing precipitation patterns. Special attention is given to water and soils, as they play a crucial role in supporting ecosystems and maintaining biological processes. Increased droughts and dry conditions will increase the risk of fires, which can lead to a loss of ecosystem function and the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

We also use new earth observation data and remote sensing technology to fill in any gaps in our understanding of the impacts of climate change. Overall, the project provides a comprehensive assessment of the risks and opportunities posed by climate change to Scotland's natural resources.

Related Projects

Natural Asset Inventory and Natural Capital Accounts

Natural Asset Inventory and Natural Capital Accounts: the aim is to develop a spatially-referenced register of Scotland’s natural assets and contribute to a set of natural capital accounts for Scotland that can over time track the progress of Scotland's green growth aspirations.

  • Natural Capital
  • 2016-2022
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