As well as floods, storms and droughts, there could be plagues of pests, ravaging diseases and toxic algal blooms. Power cuts, food shortages, wildfires, mass travel disruptions and wildlife extinctions are all forecast.
As if that were not enough, the list of potential problems caused by global warming also includes more sewer overflows, soil erosion and landslides. More deaths and illness are likely during heatwaves, while air and water pollution could worsen and fogs intensify.
Without any announcement, Scottish ministers have posted four reports online with the latest analysis of the multiple threats that Scotland is facing, and moves to combat them. They are part of the government’s climate adaptation programme, required under climate change legislation.
The reports make clear that every sector of society will be affected, including householders, businesses and farmers. But they suggest that the most vulnerable – the poor, elderly and disabled – are likely to suffer the most.
Anna Beswick, the manager of the government-backed Adaptation Scotland partnership formed to try and mitigate the impact of climate change, pointed out that the country’s climate had already changed considerably over the last 50 years. “Average temperatures have increased, autumn and winters have become wetter and we are having more heavy rainfall events,” she said.
“This has consequences right across Scotland - for businesses, communities and individuals. We are already seeing new pests and diseases becoming a problem for agriculture production and impacts such as flooding and landslides have affected our transport and energy networks as well as causing damage and distress to communities and individuals.”
The four reports list more than 130 major impacts of climate change, the vast majority of them negative. Homes, roads, railways, power stations and sub-stations are all “at significant risk of flooding”, they say.
Coastal farms, golf courses and revered ancient monuments like the prehistoric village at Skara Brae in Orkney risk drowning under rising sea levels. Some crops could suffer, some animal species leave, and people could migrate north to Scotland from elsewhere in Europe to escape unbearably high temperatures.
Mould growth could blossom in damp buildings, causing more respiratory problems, while food poisoning could increase. The escalating disruptions to daily life are likely to cause stress and mental health problems.
“Our climate affects people’s health, our road and rail services, water supplies, energy demands, tourism – the list is almost endless,” said the climate change minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.
“Although the aggregate impacts of climate change in Scotland might be less severe than in many other parts of the world, the impacts for individuals, businesses and communities can be distressing and damaging and it is important that Scotland is well prepared and resilient to change.”
Professor Pete Smith, a leading climate expert from the University of Aberdeen, suggested that climate change was no longer just an environmental issue. “It cuts across economy, society and the environment,” he told the Sunday Herald.
“As global temperatures keep rising, Scotland must take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help prevent the extent of climate change but also plan for a future with unknown risks.”
According to Dr Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, the government reports were “dire warnings of what is to come if the world does not get serious about reducing climate emissions.”
He stressed that the highest priority was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible. “We face massive disruption to our lives and problems for all sectors of society, with many of the worst consequences felt first by people in poorer countries,” he said.
“Whether you think of what might be available in the shops, or how daily life may be made harder, or how farmers will cope, or the risks of increased flooding - no-one will escape the consequences of a warming climate. The only question is how bad we will let it get.”
The Green MSP Patrick Harvie accused ministers of “burying” the adaptation reports by putting them out at the start of the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess to avoid proper scrutiny. “It is a very long to-do list with no funding or timescales,” he said.
He pointed out that Scotland had missed its first two statutory annual targets to cut climate pollution in 2010 and 2011. The Scottish government’s long-awaited plans to reduce emissions, published on 27 June, were fiercely criticised by environmental groups for failing to do enough, particularly on transport and housing.
“It's hard to have any confidence in a government that failed to listen to the many voices calling for greater ambition to reduce emissions,” said Harvie. The critical climate challenges that Scotland faced required “real leadership”, he argued.
“It's hard to see how this fits with ministers' predilection for environmentally-damaging policies such as continued oil and gas extraction, multi-billion pound road-building schemes and the growth of aviation.”
The Scottish government, however, insisted that it was showing leadership by developing Scotland’s first climate change adaptation programme. “A public consultation on the draft programme has been published, prior to a final version being laid before the Scottish Parliament,” said a government spokesman.
“We are raising awareness through a range of stakeholder communications to ensure that everyone will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on this important issue. The consultation document was also published on the Scottish government website.”