Creative Carbon Scotland’s Guide to Adapting to Climate Change

22nd July 2020

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Adapting to Climate Change

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Adapting to climate change. Storm cloud on green background.

The impacts of climate change can already be felt in Scotland, but how can cultural organisations prepare for our future? Here are some starter tips and resources to support thinking and action around preparing your work for the changes to come.

What is climate change adaptation?

Although many of us are now taking significant action to reduce the release of the greenhouse gases which lead to climate change, the amount of carbon dioxide (and other gases) released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution means that some change to our climate is inevitable. In Scotland, the annual rainfall rate has already increased by 27% since 1962, average temperatures are increasing, the growing season has lengthened, and there are more frequent unusual weather events (like the ‘Beast from the East’).

‘Adaptation’ is the technological, behavioural, managerial or practical response to these changes – not just reacting to them when they happen, but actually changing how we work to be less vulnerable (and more successful) in the future. Adaptation is already happening to an extent at a regional or local level, but increasingly individual organisations will need to understand and adapt to climate change too.

For a deeper overview of adaptation, what Creative Carbon Scotland and the cultural sector is already doing on adaptation, and more general resources, take at a look at our page on Adaptation and the Cultural Sector or this resource on anticipated climate changes in Europe.

Why should the cultural sector adapt now?

  • We are already seeing some climate changes affecting cultural organisations, with outdoor events cancelled due to extreme weather, heatwaves leading to concerns over health and safety and changing audience patterns, and increasing rainfall and rising sea levels causing damage to buildings and the infrastructure on which we depend.
  • Different places in the world will experience different changes at different times, but the earlier we adapt, the greater an opportunity we have to create a positive future.
  • Climate change will also most severely and most quickly impact the most vulnerable in our society, so adaptation is ultimately a social justice issue, and will have intersections with the sector’s efforts on equality, diversity and inclusion (more information on these connections in our Guide to Climate Justice).

Adaptation and resilience, COVID-19 and climate change

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our world highlights the fragility and vulnerability of many systems and sectors, particularly our arts and culture. Organisations and individuals have been forced to adapt overnight – from projects and programmes to even the nature of work itself. This challenge has required all of us to consider our professional resilience and prepare to continually adapt as a ‘new normal’ emerges. There will be experiences and learning from this situation which will help inform how to build the resilience of our sector going forward, and how to anticipate and adapt to the known challenges that climate change will bring.

Cultural Adaptations: a toolkit for adapting cultural organisations

Between 2018 and March 2021 Creative Carbon Scotland led a Creative Europe and Scottish Government-funded project with partners in Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden to explore how cultural organisations can adapt to climate change, and how creative practices can help wider society to adapt. One of the outputs of Cultural Adaptations is a toolkit for cultural organisations to use to adapt their work to our changing climate. Download the Adapting our Culture toolkit.

Kickstarting your adaptation

There are a number of activities and existing resources that can help cultural organisations begin to understand climate impacts and adapt their organisations now.

1. Understand how climate change will change your surroundings

The climate change impacts for Scotland are often summarised as ‘warmer, wetter, wilder’. Focus on thinking about your local environment, or the places where you often work. For example, coastal locations are more likely to be impacted by sea level rise; those near to rivers or estuaries should think about their flood risk; and those based in areas of high paved density and with few green spaces could become hotter. This resource provides an overview of changes expected in Europe, and Adaptation Scotland’s Climate Ready Places tool gives examples of how different landscapes in Scotland will change. There are links to more resources at the bottom of this page.

2. Think through the activities you undertake and how these climate impacts will affect you, your spaces, your audiences and your suppliers.

Try and map out all your activities – from events to touring, from office work to work in schools. How might a changing climate disrupt your ‘business-as-usual’?

  • Would a summer heatwave mean that your audience ends up at the beach rather than your festival?
  • Are access routes to your office at risk of being blocked off by land-slips caused by heavy rain?
  • Are you dependent on tight international travel or delivery windows which mean a snowstorm or heavy wind could ruin your opening night?
  • Think about both audiences and key staff members who might be hindered from reaching your venue or performance by weather conditions.

3. Think about the opportunities a changing climate (and an adapting society) might create for your organisation.

It’s easy to dwell on the challenges of our climate changing away from what we’ve been used to, but there could be new opportunities for cultural organisations.

  • Will warmer summers mean that you can finally use that outdoor café space you have planned for your venue?
  • Could moving your programmes to a different time of year bring you new audiences in new places?
  • Could your adaptation efforts connect with other social change initiatives you are working on, such as engaging with marginalised communities?

4. Think about ways to acknowledge and overcome the risks, and what you might need to change more permanently to avoid risks in the future.

It’s likely that your organisation will already have a way to anticipate and mitigate risks (for example, a risk register) although the responsibility for this might sit with your Board or CEO.

  • Once you’ve identified all the risks associated with our changing climate (with input from different people doing different roles in your organisation to ensure a diverse output), think about how likely they are to occur and how significant their impact would be.
  • For each risk, identify how you will overcome a situation if it arises (a reactive approach)
  • For each risk, think about how you could change the design of the project/activity to avoid the situation arising in the first place (a proactive approach)
  • Adaptation Scotland has further guidance and templates on how to create a climate change risk assessment. In particular, their mini-risk assessment might be very useful for small cultural organisation and appropriate for an away-day discussion.
  • Historic Environment Scotland undertook a risk assessment for all of their sites across Scotland, which offers an insight into how this could be done.

5. Create and implement an initial adaptation plan of action with your wider organisation.

  • This will be different for each organisation, but will likely be a summary of:
    • How climate change will affect you
    • What you are doing to do to adapt to the new conditions
    • The actions and resources you need to adapt
  • Your adaptation plan should also help communicate these impacts and actions to all your stakeholders. It might be appropriate to share it with all staff members, but also the artists you work with, to make public to your audiences, or even to use as additional information when applying for funding to progress the actions.
  • Make sure you build in a regular opportunity to review and update your plan, as you develop more experience with climate impacts and our environment continues to change. Align this with your annual planning events, board meetings or significant funding proposals.

Example of adaptation already happening in Culture

Although actively adapting to climate change is a new challenge for the cultural sector (and for wider society), by its nature our sector already has lots of experience in creatively adapting for other reasons. However, there are some examples of sector adaptation now:

  • Grid Iron Theatre Company, who produce site-specific work, are exploring the climate impacts on their outdoor shows and planning for the clothing, seating and equipment needed to keep people safe and comfortable in extreme rain or heat.
  • With multiple historic buildings and the need to protect their collection, the National Galleries of Scotland conducts regular building assessments (including recognising and anticipating climate damage)
  • Paragon typically conducts a large number of workshops, but are now recruiting workshops leaders more local to where the workshops take place in order to avoid future transport disruption.

If your organisation has an adaptation plan or is identifying actions – let us know!

Further guidance and advice

Creative Carbon Scotland will continue to develop more resources on this topic, primarily through the Cultural Adaptations project. We also regularly highlight knowledge, events and ideas on preparing culture and places to climate change through our Cultural Adaptations Twitter and Facebook account. We also publish sector specific guidance (like our Visual Arts and Adaptation report), host events and conference sessions on adaptation, and co-develop case studies with adapting members of the Scottish cultural community.

Adaptation Scotland is a Scottish Government-funded programme which offers tools, resources, support and networking to make it easier for the public sector, businesses and communities prepare for climate impacts. Their ‘Scotland Adapts’ framework, provides practical task-based ideas of how to build adaptation into your organisation, and includes tips for those doing this work for the first time.

Historic Environment Scotland has undertaken significant research into the impact of climate change on historic buildings, monuments and places to inform their approach to protecting our cultural heritage. This information could be particularly useful for cultural organisations working within a historic building or natural space, and we particularly suggest looking through their detailed Guide to Climate Change Impacts.

Creative Carbon Scotland’s work and knowledge on climate change adaptation is still developing. You can find more resources on or get in touch by contacting us!

Get info on news, opportunities & events by email

About Creative Carbon Scotland

We believe cultural and creative organisations have a significant influencing power to help shape a sustainable Scotland for the 21st century.

0131 529 7909

Supported by

Creative Scotland logo City of Edinburgh Council logo

A project initiated by Edinburgh’s Festivals with key partners the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Scottish Contemporary Art Network

Edinburgh Festival City logo Federation of Scottish Theatre logo Scottish Contemporary Art Network logo


Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Good Business Charter Accredited