Many communities across Scotland live with the risk of flooding – a risk that will increase with the impacts of a changing climate. Over the past decade Scotland’s approach to flood risk management has increasingly considered wider community resilience and wellbeing as outcomes from flood risk planning and action. This blog looks at how this shaped the agenda for Scotland’s Flood Risk Management Conference 2023 and related ClimateXChange research.

As the Scottish Government prepares its Flooding Strategy, which will be out for consultation later in 2023, flood risk planners, consultants, researchers and community groups gathered for the annual Flood Risk Management Conference.

The question framing this year’s conference was ‘How can Scotland’s flood risk management sector work together to ensure that Scotland’s places continue to thrive despite the heightened flood risks brought by rising sea levels and more intense and frequent rainstorms?’

It is a question that illustrates both the importance of climate change in managing flood risk and the need to consider community resilience holistically. The National Flood Risk Assessment for Scotland identifies 284,000 properties in Scotland as being at risk of being flooded. A baseline study from 2020 found that potentially around 81,000 of these properties could benefit from some form of property flood resilience measures.

This highlights the need to work on many fronts to reduce the risk and make our buildings and wider infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of flooding. Individuals, communities, businesses and government at local and national level all play a part in preventing risk and managing impact.

Benefits by design

Recent ClimateXChange projects have looked at how flood risk management needs to be part of and also drive regional economic development, how to analyse investment needs and routes to securing investments, and how to involve a wide group of stakeholders and community interest in climate change adaptation planning.

A key theme across these research projects is how to realise multiple benefits when designing flood risk management plans – on the ground and for a range of stakeholders. How can the aim of ‘thriving communities in the face of climate change impacts’ translate into the practice of flood risk managers in local councils, national agencies like the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), businesses operating in areas with flood risk, and not least – the communities living with flooding?

Framing is everything

Framing and objectives for flood risk management are the key to setting in train positive transformation that considers how to manage shocks and stresses accompanied by a positive ambition for a thriving community. This means science and engineering balanced with engagement, lived experience and innovative approaches.

Where flood risk management in years gone by was the domain of hard infrastructure, it is now about creating a positive vision and using blue, green and grey infrastructure as important parts of the toolbox to creating flourishing communities that provide safety and wellbeing.

One useful element of the process is a Theory of Change (ToC) – a map of how activities and actions are expected to lead to the future resilient state. Developing and using a ToC sets out the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’, and can also help in monitoring progress and adjusting the course.

Learning loops

Good adaptation – and, by extension, flood risk management – integrates across policy and addresses societal challenges such as inequalities. Good adaptation processes create learning loops between those involved and, over time, thinking across strategy, tactic and operations.

The Flood Risk Management Conference 2023 confirmed that good initiatives are innovative, inclusive and ready to learn and adjust.

All the presentations from the conference are available on the Sniffer website, including a presentation by Steven Trewhella, Director of Rivelin Bridge, who presented ‘Ten in 10’ – lessons from recent CXC projects in the Coastal Change Plenary.

Related links

FRM2023 conference slides

FRM2023 conference videos

National Flood Risk Assessment

Ten principles for good adaptation

Featured ClimateXChange projects

Property flood resilience – Scottish baseline study

Tidal flooding on the Clyde options analysis and scoping of adaptation pathways

International practice on assessing investment needs and securing investment to adapt

Taking a managed adaptive approach to flood risk management planning – evidence for guidance

How was the pandemic for you? It is a difficult question to ask and possibly even more difficult to answer. The group of people living in Scotland that we followed from July 2020 to July 2021 had both positive and negative experiences during a year of going in and out of lockdown.

That was the background to the Just Festival inviting me to reflect on what positives we can take from a global pandemic with Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director of Healthcare Quality and Strategy in the Scottish Government, and Derek Mitchell, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland. Our panel discussion ‘Covid Positive: Can there be any upside to the pandemic?’ was moderated by Professor Liz Grant, Director of the Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh.

Home working

One of the most obvious changes from the pandemic is the increase in working from home. Our business travel survey showed that nearly three in four organisations in Scotland either already support home working or plan to do so in the future. This is a significant uplift from over 60 per cent of employers having most of their staff based at an office or workplace before the pandemic.

Working from home sets in train a range of changes, including how much time we spend commuting, how managers coordinate their teams, how colleagues connect, and what we have for lunch. The emissions from heating our homes go up and from commuting to the office go down, according to a study we commissioned.

Keeping habits

Amongst our study participants there was an appetite for a number of the changes to daily lives brought on by the pandemic to be sustained, particularly using the car less, shopping locally, reducing waste and cooking from scratch.

However, a lack of infrastructure, services, knowledge and skills made many unsure they would manage to maintain those habits. Then there is the cost, for instance of shopping locally – an issue that has come into even sharper focus with the current cost of living crisis.

Community and communication

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has widened the narrative around climate change to highlight that collective action and change are possible, our research has shown. What’s more, in recovering from the pandemic, there is the opportunity to further tackle climate change.

This sense of community as a possible positive to build on as we tackle the big challenges of our time, was also highlighted by both my fellow panellists.

Another interesting aspect is the impact the pandemic has had on public debate and the role of science in informing that debate. During the pandemic we had scientists on the airwaves and on our screens every day. They gave meaning to new terminology and helped us pick our way through complex data. Will this have a lasting impact on how we discuss complex challenges like climate change and the role of research in informing our public debate?

Did we find an upside to the pandemic? Not really. But we have learned from the experience, not least how connected and dependent on each other we are locally, nationally and globally.

Featured projects

Net zero behaviours in the recovery from Covid-19

Covid-19, travel behaviours and business recovery in Scotland

Emissions impact of home working in Scotland

Communicating on climate change after Covid-19

Related links

Will a “new normal” after Covid-19 offer fresh hope for the climate crisis?

Building back better: A net-zero emissions recovery

Just Festival

A key objective for CXC is to make research accessible to a broad audience – particularly across public policy and for others who need this evidence to make decisions. In this blog, CXC Knowledge Exchange Manager Anne Marte Bergseng sets out why we have worked to achieve the Plain English Campaign’s Website Crystal Mark.

Plain language means writing and designing outputs so that it is easy for the intended audience to find, understand and use information. Across both academia and government organisations, this can be a challenge.

In practice, a lack of plain language means the reader spends longer reading a text and may miss or misunderstand key information. A lack of accessible research evidence was one of the challenges ClimateXChange and the other Scottish Government Centres of Expertise were set up to tackle.

Clear – concise – actionable

Our audience is time poor, and comprises policy specialists rather than science specialists. This is why we strive to keep our outputs concise and written in plain language. Working with our research providers, we focus on ways to make texts accessible and actionable on first read. The reader should be able to skim our reports and understand:

  • What is the problem/issue/challenge?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What can be done?

Communicating highly technical and complex climate change research in jargon-free, easy-to-read language is not straightforward, and it needs to be a focus in each individual project.

Achieving the Crystal Mark

Plain English training has been part of our offer to our researchers for a number of years, and all our reports are reviewed for clarity and accessibility. In the last year, we have worked with the Plain English Campaign to achieve its Website Crystal Mark – we are proud that the website you are reading has made the grade.

A Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark-approved website is not just about the language; the review also covers accessibility, design, content and navigation. The reviewer looks for:

  • information that is easy to read and understand;
  • design that helps, rather than hinders, the visitor;
  • information that is easy to find; and
  • whether the site contain the information people could reasonably expect to find.
 Writing for our audience

Plain language has considering the audience at its core –  communicating with them as they would communicate with themselves. Our reports and our website are written for policy colleagues in the Scottish Government, rather than directly aimed at the general public. This means we assume some prior knowledge of Scottish climate change legislation and policy.

The key challenge is presenting research methodology and outcomes simply and accessibly, and to bring out the ‘so what’ from the research findings – how can the evidence inform climate change actions in Scotland? With this in mind, we hope our efforts also mean that ClimateXChange research is accessible to a wider audience – e.g. across the public sector, in NGOs and businesses, and students and academics.

We aim to be a practical, constructive and inclusive partner for those developing climate policy in Scotland. The way we write and present our research should never be a barrier to joining the conversation. Achieving, and in the years to come keeping, the Plain English Crystal Mark is one way to demonstrate our commitment.

Top tips for writing Plain English
  • Keep it short: 15-20 words in a sentence. Most commas can be replaced by a full stop.
  • Use active verbs. E.g. say ‘Government will review the plan next year’ rather than the passive construction ‘A review of the plan will be undertaken by Government next year’
  • Use sub-headings and bullet points to make the text easy to skim. This is particularly important for text that will be read on screen.

Read more about the Plain English Campaign

Read more about our approach to communicating research to a policy audience

Weather disruption is a ‘system stressor’ that is projected to increase in the coming decades as the global climate changes. The UK Climate Change Risk Assessment has identified climate change as one of the greatest risks to public health in the UK, and one which will impact vulnerable people disproportionally.

This project looks at how providers of social care support at home in Scotland respond to extreme weather events. Based on experience from three case studies of extreme weather, it considers how the sector is planning for, dealing with and learning from such events. The study only looks at support provided in people’s homes. It does not address care provided in other settings such as residential care homes.

The report is a first step in making an assessment of the social care support sector’s resilience to climate change and helping to improve this. The research is based on interviews with social care providers and with those working in business continuity, emergency planning and community resilience in six geographical focus areas. It also involved desk research, drawing on strategies and plans relevant to the provision of social care support at home which are in the public domain.

The study was commissioned and carried out prior to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and also at a time when the Scottish Government was working with partners to develop a programme to support reform of adult social care support.

The report is published with the hope that the findings and recommendations resonate with and can support the recovery and remobilisation of the sector, and the ongoing reform work that was underway prior to the pandemic, and can support the wider learning around resilience from the pandemic.

Key findings
  • While extreme weather is a consideration in social care support, the research suggests planning for more frequent events caused by climate change is not front of mind for current leaders and managers in the sector.
  • The case study extreme weather events increased staff workload and travel times. Some providers moved to working from priority lists following Met Office weather warnings, continuing care and support categorised as critical or essential. We did not find data on the impact on clients not on the priority lists. It is also worth noting that priority list clients have complex needs that require specialist skills, which those staff who can reach them during travel disruption may not have. This makes staff re-deployment more challenging.
  • The social care support sector – thanks to the extraordinary commitment of staff – flexes at a time of crisis. Delivering social care through the case study extreme weather events was dependent on the goodwill, flexibility and high levels of motivation of the existing workforce. Some of the challenges faced during extreme weather bear aspects of similarity to those emerging as key factors for responding to the pandemic and during the first steps towards recovery.

Scotland’s Climate Assembly is giving 100 people living in Scotland a unique opportunity to learn more about climate change and consider what actions Scotland should take to ‘to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way?’

A citizens’ assembly brings together a group of people to learn about, discuss, and deliberate on a difficult issue, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen.

The Scottish Assembly have at the time of this blog held three weekend of meetings. During their first meeting weekend members learnt about the science of climate change; the impacts of a changing climate; and  actions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The second weekend focused on exploring where Scotland’s emissions come from; how they can be reduced; and what we are doing to adapt to the impacts of climate change in Scotland. The third weekend Assembly members started exploring how change can happen and who is involved in bringing about change.

The materials put together for the assembly are available online – a great resource for anyone interested in learning more. CXC has contributed to the first two weekends:

CXC Policy Director Dave Reay talks about how to reduce our contribution to climate change during the first weekend. During the second weekend the participants watched videos of CXC Programme Manager Dan Barlow talking about government influence on climate action and CXC Science Director Pete Smith setting out the role of diet and land-use in tackling climate change.

Scotland’s Climate Assembly will meet six times, with the last meeting at the start of March 2021. And we are all invited to join the conversation – see how here.

Citizens’ Assemblies have been used to discuss a wide range of questions in many countries. The Climate Assembly UK reported in September 2020, having discussed and agreed different ways the UK can reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. You can read their report here. Climate assemblies have also been run locally.; the Oxford Climate Assembly ran over two weekends in 2019. Read there report here.

The Scottish Government established the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) in 2008 to help local communities in the transition to a low-carbon society. The fund supports community-led projects which lead to reductions in carbon emissions, and which are designed to leave a sustainable legacy of low-carbon behaviour.

It works in areas such as energy efficiency, sustainable and active travel, reducing and recycling waste, and food growing. As of mid-2020, over 1,150 projects across all Scotland’s 32 local authorities had been awarded CCF grants, with total funding since 2008 exceeding £111 million.

This report considers the evidence for the fund’s impact on the ground, the effectiveness of actions, and how we can monitor success in the future. Emerging findings were captured during the research in a series of interim policy notes, also published here.

The research centres on in-depth case studies of five CCF projects which the team followed for 18 months. The report uses the case study evidence to understand and capture the processes of change supported by the CCF. From this, it draws out lessons on how to facilitate and monitor such impact going forward.

Welcoming the report at the CCF Annual Gathering 2020, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, said:

I thank the research team for all their efforts on the study which, as they presented in one of the break-out sessions at last year’s Gathering, centred on in-depth case studies of five CCF projects.

Its findings and recommendations will help to identify the specific role that community climate action can play in Scotland’s transition to a net zero society and, crucially, in ensuring that we take everyone with us on that journey.


  • The CCF’s community focus allows it to play a unique role in Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon society. This research identifies that CCF projects contribute to Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon society at the community level in two ways:
    • by directly helping people to explore and adopt low-carbon behaviours; and
    • by building community capacity to embed a legacy of continued bottom-up change that can also support larger-scale policy interventions.
  • The CCF’s unique contributions are not adequately captured through the lens of carbon emissions. This echoes findings from earlier reviews of the CCF.
  • Current carbon-focused CCF monitoring and reporting processes present several limitations.
  • The CCF programme faces similar issues to other community empowerment policies. As such, its design could usefully reflect the barriers and opportunities faced by community projects in general.


Moving Beyond Carbon Emissions

  1. The CCF programme should seek to address all the elements of Climate Change Engagement.

Better Capturing and Reporting CCF Success

  1. We suggest reporting along the lines of the proposed Climate Change Engagement framework.
  2. Reporting processes need to be realistic.
  3. It is important to separate supporting and assessment functions in the reporting process.

Making the Most of the CCF’s Community Focus

  1. CCF projects could be given more guidance and support to identify and respond to their communities’ specific characteristics.
  2. The CCF funding approach should reflect diverse community capacities.
  3. The CCF could empower projects to be adaptive over the course of the funding period.



At the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference 2019, ClimateXChange convened a workshop session looking at the practical use of scenario planning in climate change adaptation. This blog is a summary of the discussion amongst participants. A paper written by the session presenters is published in Environmental Science & Policy

What is scenario planning?

Planning for uncertain futures is a major challenge for policy and decision-makers in climate change adaptation. The range of unknowns includes future emissions, climate change impacts, and socio-economic conditions. Creating a range of scenarios is one way to consider uncertain futures in their adaptation planning.

Scenario planning is an approach for:

  • structured thinking about future uncertainty;
  • describing futures that could be by looking at a combination of drivers; and
  • helping societies better plan for these possible development.

How scenario planning works

Scenario planning is a way to test and compare a range of alternative options against multiple possible futures.

The scenarios can be created by experts using date for different drives, e.g. projections for population growth, climate change, food production, technology etc, or developing the scenarios can be part of the stakeholder process by drawing on their lived experience and insights. Scenarios created by the participants in the process are usually local or regional.

Many scenario planning processes combine high level data driven scenarios created by experts with local knowledge and perspectives.

Benefits and strengths of scenario planning

Scenario planning is particularly useful in relation to climate change because it allows different groups like communities, academics, local and national government, agencies or businesses, to look at possible futures together. They all bring different and relevant knowledge and expertise to inform the discussion from different angles, such as climate, economic development, demographics, local history etc.

It can work at different geographical scales – local, national and global, in different contexts, and looking at short or longer term timelines. Shorter time horizons work best at the local scale, while longer term scenarios are more suited to the national and global scale.

Fig 1: The most useful aspects of scenario planning

Scenarios are particularly useful to:

  • frame discussion about new problems;
  • bring in a range of stakeholders to share and broaden knowledge and learning;
  • explore drivers for change; and
  • explore solutions.

In discussing a scenario the participants can either focus on how to respond to the different drivers for change, like population growth, and their impact. Or they can consider how these potential responses fit with existing practices.

Using scenarios

As scenario planning processes involve significant resources, primarily in gathering participants and data/information, it is important to maximise their value.

Rather than being a stand-alone tool, scenarios work better as part of a wider process.

Re-visiting scenarios, for example every 5 years, as part of a planning cycle is one way to encourage feedback loops and build learning.

Scenarios can also work well with an adaptation pathways approach[i], where future decision-makers have flexibility to make use of their increased knowledge of how climate change impacts are playing out and better climate projections.

Used flexibly and iteratively scenarios can therefore help identify no and low-regret adaptation options.

What scenarios are not well suited to

Individual scenarios are not well suited to identifying specific adaptation options or actions.

They can support decisions by identifying possible options, but not in assessing which option to choose.

They are also static – each scenario representing only one point in time – and so unable to take account of unexpected changes, such as extreme weather events, new regulations or political decisions.

Fig 2: Scenario planning limitations and weaknesses

[i] See for an overview of the adaptation pathway approach

What is the role of small countries and regions in taking climate action? As international climate experts gathered in Edinburgh at the start of April, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and ClimateXChange held a panel discussion with some of those at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change at a city, region and country level from across the world.

To share lessons at the sub-national level an auditorium with standing room only heard from a panel with representatives from California (USA), Kampala (Uganda), Gujarat (India), Westphalia (Germany) and Scotland:

  • Leon Clarke, Leader, Integrated Human Earth Systems Science program, University of Maryland/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL): Implications of city and state climate action in the US
  • Shuaib Lwasa, Associate Professor, Makerere University/World Resource Institute: Climate action underway in Kampala and drawing out links between climate adaptation and mitigation in the context of a rapidly growing city.
  • Catriona Patterson, Chair of Scotland’s 2050 Climate Group: Talking about how the 2050 Climate Group equip young people with the skills, knowledge and opportunities to take action on climate change
  • Minal Pathak, Senior Scientist, IPCC WG III Technical Support Unit, Ahmedabad University: Ground-breaking work on climate action in Gujurat
  • Manfred Fischedick, Vice President, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy: Climate action in North-Rhine Westphalia including work underway to transition from coal
  • Katherine White, Head of International, Strategy and Projects Unit Decarbonisation Division, The Scottish Government: Scotland’s approach to domestic climate change action and the value the Scottish Government places on international collaboration to share our experiences with, and learn from, others.

The event was chaired by Professor Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management & Education at the University of Edinburgh, and Professor Jim Skea, Co-Chair of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Listen to the recording to hear about US states taking action autonomously from the national level; how in Kampala the green agenda is a key driver for employment, infrastructure developments and urban greening; and that Gujarat and Westphalia share challenges on reducing the dependency on coal – both seeing results and achieving social development in the process.

From Scotland we heard about international cooperation’s role in enabling and inspiring small countries to reduce their emissions, and the role of young people in shaping the agenda and creating the solutions.

During the 90 minute debate panelists also covered the role of targets, the importance of bottom-up action, how to make the transition just, and how climate scientists feel about flying to participate in meetings.

Listen to the recording

Read more about the IPCC’s meeting in Edinburgh 

Read media coverage of the meeting:

Climate change: What next for saving the planet? (BBC)

World seems ambivalent about swift action on climate change – IPCC chair (Scotsman)