The heavy flooding over the weekend graphically reminds us that Scotland is already feeling the extreme impacts of climate change. Farmers say millions of pounds worth of damage has been done to crops and the insurance bill for flooded homes and businesses is yet to be calculated.
Scotland is shielded from the worst impacts of the rising global temperatures because of changing ocean water currents and atmospheric air flows but even so we experienced our hottest ever June and our third hottest ever September.
Averaged across the globe, September was the hottest September ever recorded by a margin described by scientists as ‘extraordinary.’ July was the warmest month in at least 120,000 years and 2023 is very likely to be the warmest year ever, at around 1.4ºC warmer than pre-industrial average temperatures.
Three years of the Pacific cooling phenomenon known as La Niña have masked the rising global temperature, now a growing El Niño warming cycle will exacerbate it, with the biggest impacts expected in 2024.
Of course, this means we are approaching the critical political threshold of 1.5ºC, which the world’s nation agreed to try to ‘make efforts to’ keep below at the Paris climate talks in 2015.
The higher global temperatures mean that the amount of sea ice around Antarctica is at a record low – a record only set last year.
Meanwhile the long-running drought in Eastern Africa has left over 40 million people facing severe hunger in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and South Sudan and the clean up continues from 2022’s summer floods in Pakistan, estimated to have cost more than $43bn and affected 33 million people.
Last year the world’s climate scientists gave what was described as the bleakest warning yet of the impacts of climate change that are already here and those that are accelerating toward us. They concluded that impacts thought to be decades away are already happening and even impacts we expected are more severe than predicted.
Meanwhile the UK government is slowing down action on climate change, from the delay to banning fossil-fuelled vehicles to the lack of enthusiasm for insulating homes, and from plans for new motorway developments to the approval of yet more climate-wrecking North Sea oil production.
The latest madness is to try to restrict the development of solar energy farms because they might take land from agriculture. Cows and sheep can still graze in a field full of solar panels, but they certainly can’t on the golf courses that occupy more than five times the area of solar developments.
All this anti-environment nonsense is not even to appeal to the electorate, since Rishi Sunak’s approval rating fell to its lowest ever level after his attack on Net Zero policies. It is only to appease a faction of the Conservative Party that still wants to ‘cut the green crap’ as David Cameron did in 2013, a move now estimated to have added £2.5bn to UK energy bills.
So things are getting worse more rapidly than expected, even here in Scotland, and global climate emissions continue to grow, when we need them to drop to zero, but in the UK internal party politics means we are going backwards.
A version of this article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 11th October 2023.