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Resilient Essential Services
Scottish Government's Strategic Framework 2020-2023

Guide 6: Building Resilience to a Changing Climate (Adaptation)

Guide 6: Building Resilience to a Changing Climate (Adaptation)




This guide seeks to:

  • Provide relevant information to those responsible for critical infrastructure in Scotland to help build resilience to the impacts of the changing climate.


This guide is aimed at:

  • Government - CI Resilience Policy leads in Scottish Government
  • Critical Infrastructure (CI) Operators – Strategic Management, Resilience and Business Continuity Management (BCM) leads
  • Responder Communities – Resilience Partnerships (RPs), Resilience and BCM leads



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.

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.

These changes pose serious risks for infrastructure. Legislative duties are now also in force requiring major public bodies, including many infrastructure operators, to exercise their functions in a way best calculated to deliver the Statutory Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme and, report progress annually as part of Public Bodies Duties Mandatory Reporting. Critical infrastructure operators in the private sector are equally at risk and should build climate change adaptation into their resilience planning and risk management strategies.



To avoid longer-term impacts on people and the economy, it is essential that investments in new infrastructure, as well as the adaptation of existing infrastructure, are considered in the context of climate change risks and impacts.

There is still considerable uncertainty about the nature and extent of future climate change. Adaptation of infrastructure will therefore need to be flexible in order to cope with a wide range of possible changes. This will involve a combination of measures that include24:

  • Retrofitting existing infrastructure to be more resilient to changed weather conditions
  • Adding redundancy into infrastructure networks in order to provide viable alternatives when some parts of the network fail
  • Building in flexibility so that infrastructure assets can be modified in future without incurring excessive cost
  • Designing systems that consider how changes in climate will alter supply, demand and risks
  • Identifying alternative and creative ways of delivering services, e.g. the use of green spaces to aid flood management
  • Incentivising reduced demand for services through behaviour change and the use of more efficient technologies
  • Ensuring infrastructure organisations and professionals have the necessary skills and capacity to implement adaptation measures


24 The Adaptation Principles set out above are taken from Dawson RJ (ed.) (2015) A Climate Change Report Card for Infrastructure. LWEC Report Card. Living With Environmental Change. ISBN 978-0-9928679-4-2 copyright © Living With Environmental Change.


Case Study

Scottish Water River Spey Flooding Programme

This case study demonstrates how Scottish Water has addressed the impacts of flooding on the River Spey through incorporating adaptation projects in their five year capital maintenance programme.


How flooding affects infrastructure and water quality

River flows in the River Spey can be relatively low during dry weather. During periods of snowmelt and heavy rain there is a significant rise in the river level onto the flood plain. Scottish Water’s aim was to improve the level of treatment to protect and improve water quality, and at the same time make the infrastructure resilient to an increased risk of flooding. With climate change likely to alter rainfall patterns and bring more heavy downpours, flood risk is expected to increase in the future.


What we did

We worked with Local Authority planners and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), and consulted with various stakeholder groups and the Cairngorm National Park Authority. This identified development growth pressures and flood risk areas as an issue throughout the River Spey catchment. This was the basis for planning a series of upgrades to the treatment plants at Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore, Boat of Garten, Grantown and Nethybridge, as well as modifications to two pumping stations.

Climate change was a focus in this planning:

  • Detailed flood risk assessments were carried out to identify the areas prone to flooding.
  • Treatment plants were sited to avoid the impact of increased flood events
  • Resilience to flood risk was built into the upgraded facilities.
  • A variety of methods were used to adapt the sites to future flood risk. This included
    • using bunds to prevent flood water reaching the treatment plant,
    • building up the land surrounding the plant, and
    • creating compensatory storage for flood waters at other points upstream.

Noting the key findings from the climate projections, the improvements also took into account the possibility of longer periods of dry weather. This presented challenges for the level of treatment required.


What has changed as result of this process?

The upgraded treatment plants and pumping stations can continue to operate and treat wastewater even when the River Spey bursts its banks. The work has both increased the flood resilience of the assets and improved their capability to protect the Special Area of Conservation of which the River Spey comprises a large part.


  • Engage and collaborate with a wide range of organisations to explore options and opportunities
  • Consider key findings from the climate projections to assess future business risk
  • Review existing strategic plans and policies for exposure to climate-related risks and identify opportunities for adaptive strategies to be incorporated into them and their associated processes.


Next steps
  • Complete work with Local Authorities on catchments at risk of flooding and agree a prioritised strategy for flood mitigation measures.
  • Incorporate climate change scenarios when designing all new treatment plants and upgrading existing ones.
  • Use the outcomes from the climate risk assessment to inform future investment decisions.

For full case study information see: adaptation-capital-maintenance-programmes-Scottish





Critical infrastructure is a broad term used to describe Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) and other infrastructure of ‘national significance’, the loss or compromise of which would have severe, widespread effects impacting on the UK, as well as infrastructure and assets of local significance.

Disruption to critical infrastructure would lead to the loss or disruption of essential services, or present a hazard to the community, or reduce the effectiveness of an emergency response, and/or could lead to loss of life. Disruption of essential services is also expected to have a significant impact on commercial and business activity. As such, critical infrastructure needs to be robust in the face of many risks and pressures that it faces. Infrastructure typically has a long operational life, so needs to not only consider current risks, but future risks.

Scotland’s climate is changing with increases in severe weather events, changes in rainfall, sea level rise and increased temperatures already affecting infrastructure. These changes are set to increase in the decades ahead and should be factored in to decisions about infrastructure design, planning and operation.

This document provides guidance about the changes in climate observed and projected for Scotland; sets out key risks for infrastructure; signposts to sources of information and support; provides a summary of legislative and policy drivers and identifies adaptation principles.

Weather is what we experience on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis. It can be very variable.

Climate is the average of weather conditions over a long period of time (usually a 30 year period), while climate change is a long-term trend in climate

“Climate is what you expect – weather is what you get” R. A.Heinlen, 1973

Resilience: ‘the capacity of an individual, community or system to adapt in order to sustain an acceptable level of function, structure and identity”25

Adaptation – the adjustment in economic, social or natural systems in response to actual or expected climate change, to limit harmful consequences and exploit beneficial opportunities.


25 Charles Edwards; Resilient Nation; Demos; 2009



Scotland’s changing climate

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 the warmest since records began. Rainfall has been increasing in Scotland over the last thirty years, with more heavy downpours.

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.

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

For further information about climate trends and projections visit the Adaptation Scotland website:


Risks to infrastructure

The long operational lifetime of infrastructure systems means that they are vulnerable to both existing and future climate risks. It is therefore essential that these risks are considered during the construction of new assets and also in the upgrade of existing assets.


General lifetime of infrastructure assets
Figure 1: General lifetime of infrastructure assets shown alongside projected temperature increase (26)

Infrastructure in Scotland is exposed to a wide range of climate change impacts. Impacts on some assets have the potential to cascade on to others as part of interdependent networks.

Flooding poses the greatest long-term risk to infrastructure performance from climate change but, growing risks from heat, water scarcity and slope instability could be significant. Storms will also continue to pose a serious challenge.

26 Image extracted from Defra, 2011. Climate Resilient Infrastructure: Preparing for a Changing Climate. [online] Available at:


Summary of Climate Change risks to UK infrastructure
Figure 2: Summary of Climate Change risks to UK infrastructure

The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017: Evidence report identifies risks and opportunities for infrastructure including:


Risks to infrastructure services from river, surface water and groundwater flooding

Infrastructure across all sectors is exposed to coastal, river, surface water and groundwater flooding. Flooding already accounts for significant losses in infrastructure services, with outages caused by flooding tending to last longer than other weather-related hazards.

The risk of flooding is expected to rise, as patterns of rainfall become more intense. Western areas of Scotland in particular could be subject to significant increases in heavy winter rainfall.


Risks to infrastructure services from coastal flooding and erosion

Scotland has significant infrastructure assets located in coastal areas and so potentially exposed to flooding from the sea. Key infrastructure assets located in the coastal zone include power stations, ports, roads and rail networks. Some stretches of the Scottish coastline are actively eroding, exposing some road and rail networks.


Risks of sewer flooding due to heavy rainfall

Combined sewer systems have a limited capacity and cannot easily be adapted to deal with increased intensity and duration of rainfall, particularly in densely populated urban areas. An additional challenge is the issue of ‘urban creep’, when the paving over of front gardens or large patio areas can impact on drainage, sewer and surface water flooding.

Without additional action being taken, it is estimated that a combination of climate change, population growth and continued urban creep will lead to an increase in the amount of surface water entering the sewer system. This is likely to lead to increased frequency of the sewer system exceeding its capacity and increased risk of surface water flooding when this occurs.


Risks to bridges and pipelines from high river flows and bank erosion

Peak river flows in Scotland are expected to increase. High and fast river flows can cause localised riverbank erosion, undermining structures such as bridges and exposing buried cabling and pipework.


Risks to transport networks from slope and embankment failure

Older, less well compacted earthworks such as those supporting the rail network are deteriorating at a faster rate than newer earthworks built to more modern construction standards. Increased incidences of natural and engineering slope failure effecting the road and rail network in the winters of 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 demonstrate their vulnerability to the type of more frequent, intense rainfall events that are expected.


Risks to public water supplies from drought and low river flows

At a national level, Scotland currently has a comfortable 22% supply/demand surplus in the public water supply. However, not all individual Water Resource Zones are in a surplus position. Climate change is expected to restrict the supply of water whilst population growth will add to demand.


Risks to energy, transport and digital infrastructure from high winds and lightning

High winds are a significant cause of damage and disruption to electricity and rail networks. Most of this damage and disruption is caused by trees and branches falling onto power lines and railway tracks.

The observed increase in the length of the growing season, which has gained ten days in Northern Europe since the 1960s, is likely to continue and will, in the absence of additional management, increase the amount of tree-related damage and disruption.


Risks to offshore infrastructure from storms and high waves

Increases in severe weather could increase the challenge of managing and maintaining offshore infrastructure. For example, extreme weather conditions are likely to increase scour and erosion of sediment around windfarm foundations leading to the potential for engineering failure in the foundations.

These challenges can be managed through the use of Third Party Verification for renewable demonstrator projects and Third Party Certification for commercial projects. These independent assessments include assessment of risks posed by 1 in 100 year events. Third Party Verifications are normal process for developers and are needed to gain insurance cover. They should include an assessment of changing frequency of severe weather events.


Risks to transport, digital and energy infrastructure from extreme heat

Rail and electricity transmission and distribution networks are the sectors most vulnerable to impacts during periods of high temperatures. Hot weather has the potential to cause train service cancellations and speed restrictions, and require de- rating of overhead power lines. High temperatures can also affect what maintenance can be performed, for example making tensioning rail track difficult due to thermal expansion or by new road tarmac drying too quickly.


Potential benefits to water, transport, digital and energy infrastructure from reduced extreme cold events

Cold weather, including snow and ice, is a major cause of disruption to transport services, and electricity transmission and distribution. For example, snow and ice account for 13% of weather-related impacts to the UK high voltage electricity distribution network.

The average number of extreme cold days is likely to reduce over the course of the century. Cold winters will still be possible, but are expected to become increasingly unlikely. There may be opportunities arising from fewer snow and ice days reducing winter disruption and maintenance costs.


Risks of cascading failures from interdependent infrastructure networks

Infrastructure networks do not operate in isolation and climate change impacts affecting one infrastructure system have the potential to cascade and impact other interdependent networks.


Information and support

A wide range of peer to peer support, guidance and tools are available to infrastructure operators. Key sources are outlined below:


Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum

The Infrastructure Operators Adaptation Forum (IOAF) is a UK wide forum that brings together infrastructure operators, regulators, government, trade associations, professional bodies and academics to learn from each other and work together to address adaptation challenges.

The IOAF online community is open to all infrastructure operators and interested parties and includes a resource catalogue.

The IOAF also have working groups where members address shared challenges including: Climate risk assessment approaches; Interdependencies and cascade failure risks; Embedding adaptation in organisations and; Implications for standards. All infrastructure operators are invited to consider joining an IOAF working group.

To join the online community:

  1. Register with the Institution of Engineering Technology for a free online account
  2. Visit the communities page and request to join the IOAF community

To find out about working groups or for more information about the IOAF contact:


Adaptation Scotland Programme

The Adaptation Scotland programme provides advice and support to help organisations and communities in Scotland prepare for, and build resilience to the impacts of climate change. The programme includes a range of tools and projects that are relevant for infrastructure operators including:

  • Climate information – Information about past trends, climate projections and links to detailed SEPA, Met office and UKCP18 climate projections.
  • Tools and resources - including a toolkit to support consideration of climate risks in built environment and infrastructure projects
  • Training and events – A wide range of training and events to develop adaptation skills and networks.

Visit or contact to find out more about the support listed above.


Climate Ready Clyde

The Climate Ready Clyde initiative is creating a shared vision, strategy and action plan for an adapting Glasgow City Region.


Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)

SEPA works closely with other organisations responsible for managing flood risk including Local Authorities, Scottish Water, the National Park Authorities and Forestry Commission Scotland through a network of partnerships and stakeholder groups to ensure that a nationally consistent approach to flood risk management is adopted.

Visit for more information about Flood risk in Scotland


Further reading

A wide range of research is available to inform adaptation planning and action for infrastructure.

Key sources are outlined below:


Committee on Climate Change (CCC)

The CCC is an independent, statutory body established under the UK Climate Change Act 2008. The committee provides advice on progress made in preparing for climate change.

Relevant publications include the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment evidence reports (July 2016).These include a report on risks to infrastructure and a summary report of risks for Scotland.

View the publications at


Adaptation and Resilience in the Context of Change (ARCC) Network

The ARCC was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and focused on adaptation and resilience in buildings, urban environments, transport networks, water resources and energy systems. The ARCC website has a wide range of research and publications relevant to infrastructure operators.

Visit the ARCC website:


LWEC climate Change Impacts report cards

LWEC's climate change impacts report cards present the latest evidence on how climate change is affecting different aspects of our environment, economy and society. They are designed for decision-makers at any level, but in particular for use by policy advisors, ministers and local authorities.

Download the infrastructure report card here: cards/infrastructure/



Legislative and policy drivers for action
  • Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
    The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 requires a climate change adaptation programme to be developed every five years to address the risks identified in successive UK Climate Change Risk Assessments (CCRAs). The first UK CCRA was published in January 2012 and the first Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme was published in 2014.

    The Public Bodies Climate Change Duties, established by the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 require that Public Bodies exercise their functions in a way best calculated to deliver any statutory adaptation programme. In 2015 the Scottish Government introduced an Order requiring all 151 Public Bodies who appear on the Major Player list to submit an annual report, detailing their compliance with the climate change duties.

  • Civil Contingencies Act (2004)
    The Civil Contingencies Act (2004) requires Public Bodies to assess the risk of emergencies occurring and maintain plans to ensure if an emergency occurs that services are able to continue.

    Two of the three meanings of the term “emergency” can be interpreted as relating to severe weather or climate change. The first is “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare”. This includes where the emergency involves, causes or may cause loss of human life; human illness or injury; damage to property; disruption of supplies of money, food, water, energy or fuel; disruption of a system of communication’ disruption of facilities for transport; or disruption of services relating to health.

    The second relevant meaning is “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to the environment”. This includes where the emergency involves, causes or may cause (a) contamination of land, water or air with biological, chemical or radioactive matter, or (b) disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life.”

    National Planning Framework 3, Scottish Planning Policy, Land Use Strategy and Flood Risk Management Strategies are all examples of policy and strategy drivers.

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