Scotland’s climate is changing faster than predicted, with changes expected to see over the next three decades already happening now, according to two new reports. Increases in winter rainfall, for instance, have already exceeded amounts projected for 2050.

The analysis by experts at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen also found that in some parts of the country, temperatures in February, for example, have risen 2.5°C, since 1960, while the highest maximum temperatures in March have risen from 16.9°C to 19.4°C.

The February observed change is comparable to the lower range of what climate scientists had projected for the future period 2020-2050, implying we are on course to reach the projections of higher temperatures.

Hutton scientists predicted that Scotland may experience summer and autumn increases of 4C over the next three decades. “Climate extremes,” one of the reports said, “have already changed and are projected to increase: longer dry periods; heavier rain in winter.”

The reports come at the end of a year in which Scotland has experienced the hottest June on record and flood and storm damage from Storm Babet, believed to be the costliest storm in Scottish history.

Dr Mike Rivington, who led the Scottish climate change and extremes trends research at the Hutton said: “The fact that we have already experienced some of the projected changes in Scotland’s climate suggests that climate change is happening faster. This will have global impacts, affecting trade and undermining the stability of economies at same time reducing our own capacity to adapt, for example, homegrown food and the water and energy and nature based services we get from today’s ecosystems.”

The research also points point to Scotland exceeding a 2°C increase in temperature by the 2050s. It is set out in two reports delivered to the Scottish Government, titled Climate Trends and Future Projections in Scotland and Climate Extremes in Scotland. They look at past trends, but also what we can expect, based on a range of 12 climate projections out to 2080.

Dr Rivington said: “We are now in the midst of climate breakdown: our ecosystems that regulate the climate and enable food production are degrading and are at risk of collapse, whilst we continue to increase greenhouse gas emissions driving further warming.”

“There has never been a more important time to understand the scale of the threat and how fast we need to act. The acceleration of climate change and biodiversity loss on a global scale could push us beyond key tipping points, which if crossed will be irreversible."

Increases in water scarcity, the reports said,  “could threaten not just agriculture and forestry” but also “peatland restoration efforts”.

Dr Rivington said: “Threats include water shortages reducing agricultural productivity, and risk water supplies running out at points in the year. Less and warmer water in streams impacts river health and water quality due to higher concentrations of pollution, but also increased potential for flooding in winter due to increased rainfall.

READ MORE: Climate change already happening in Scotland. Its speed is a wake-up call

READ MORE: Scotland's floods: From A83 to swamped crops, what to learn?

The reports encourage the adoption of adaptation measures – for instance, the storage of excess rainfall in winter months for use in summer; increasing the organic matter in soils, so they store more water for droughty periods and adjustment of seasonal management guidance on muirburn.

They also stress the need to climate-proof land management plans.

The Herald: Waves at Stonehaven Harbour. Andrew Milligan/PAWaves at Stonehaven Harbour. Andrew Milligan/PA (Image: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

However, Dr Rivington said that reducing emissions should be a priority. “Drastically reducing fossil fuel use," he said, "changing the food system to be better for our health and the environment, conserving and enhancing what biodiversity we have, restoring degraded ecosystems and reducing resource consumption to a sustainable level will give society a fighting chance and help us realise a better way of living.”

Among those most greatly impacted by this changing climate are farmers and crofters. Responding to the report, Ruth Taylor, Agriculture and Land Use Manager at WWF Scotland said: “The news that Scotland’s climate is changing faster than expected will come as no surprise to our farmers and crofters. Over recent years they have battled periods of extreme heat, drought, and flooding to grow the food we all rely on.

“A recent report by WWF Scotland shows that the nature-friendly measures land managers can adopt are a win-win for their businesses, nature and the climate, and being part of the solution to climate change while making their businesses much more resilient in the face of extreme weather events. This analysis is valuable to inform the agriculture bill currently under scrutiny in the Scottish Parliament. Leadership from the Scottish Government is now more important than ever.”

READ MORE: From NC500 to Cairngorms. Highland spots impacted by climate change

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition Màiri McAllan said: “These findings underline that the climate emergency is not a distant threat – it is with us today. Storms have battered Scotland in recent months and 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record.

“The impacts of climate change are affecting families, communities and businesses across Scotland. That is why we are taking action to make Scotland more resilient in the face of a changing climate.”

“In January we will publish a draft of our ambitious National Adaptation Plan to address the climate risks facing Scotland. We are making Scotland more resilient to flooding, providing £150 million of extra funding, on top of our annual £42 m funding, for flood risk management over the course of this Parliament and consulting on a new Flood Resilience Strategy in the new year.

“We are creating Nature Networks across Scotland to help our wildlife adapt to the changing climate and make local environments more flood resilient and cooler in warmer weather. And we are getting our homes ready for extreme weather, with building regulations now including measures to address overheating and other extreme weather events.”