Navigating Climate Change in Scotland: The Highland Adapts Partnership
Highland is by far the largest region in Scotland, covering nearly 10,000 square miles in northern Scotland. Home to vast landscapes, diverse communities, and rich natural and cultural heritage the region is being profoundly impacted by climate change.
The Highland Adapts partnership was set up in 2021 and brings communities, businesses, land managers and public sector together to facilitate transformational action towards a prosperous, climate ready Highland.
This weADAPT case study is a summary of the Highland Adapts initiative. Please access the Highlands Adapt website for more detail, principles, objectives and further resources.
Founding of the partnership
The Highland Council’s former Climate Change Manager Keith Masson started work in 2018 to discuss the potential for a joined-up approach to adaptation across the Highlands. Keith knew that the climate risks affecting Highland communities, nature, businesses, assets, infrastructure and culture were significant and hoped that a forward thinking, innovative approach to adaptation would deliver huge benefits for the region. He opened informal conversations with community planning partners and requested input from the Adaptation Scotland programme to develop the business case for a major new climate adaptation partnership for the region. Adaptation Scotland worked with Keith to design an inclusive approach to developing the business case, structured around the HM Treasury five case model.
Interviews were held with major organisations and a public survey was promoted across local press and radio. The business case process established a strong case for setting up a highland wide adaptation partnership, ‘Highland Adapts’ and drew out key values and principles that partners wanted to use as a foundation for the initiative. The process of involving many different organisations and voices in developing the business case helped to develop a founding group who were strongly committed to developing ‘Highland Adapts’. The founders committed early on to distributive power, recognising that diverse partners should be involved in Highland Adapts and that the leadership and decision making should not be restricted to the partners who were able to provide finance. The Highland Adapts initiative was formally established in 2021 and Emma Whitham, Highland Adapts Manager, has worked with the partners to develop a purpose, guiding principles and objectives that reflect their collective desire for a transformative approach to adaptation for the Highlands that is deeply rooted in the unique challenges, opportunities, and priorities of Highland communities.
When the Highland Adapts partnership was established in 2021 the founding partners spent time discussing the objectives and the guiding principles that would form a reference point for their work together. The Highland Adapts manager facilitated open and honest discussions that explored conflicting points of view and built consensus. The discussions were important in reaching agreement on the future direction of Highland Adapts and created space for the partners to hear and understand different perspectives and get to know each other. Establishing any new initiative requires a lot of time and effort in the start-up phase. The Highland Adapts partners have worked through different challenges including changes in personnel from founding organisations and the need to balance a huge interest and enthusiasm from stakeholders for engaging with the partnership activities and the need to focus on delivering specific pieces of work. The governance and supporting structures allow these challenges and others to be addressed collectively.
Inclusion is prioritised through the Highland Adapts governance structure. A team of twelve Community Climate Advocates who represent grassroot networks, are actively working with people and communities across the region to take climate action, build resilience, and empower community-led solutions to the triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and health. The Climate Advocates collaborate to ensure the region is working as whole and take a systems approach to social and environmental issues. The Highland Adapts engagement and business teams are also playing an important role in involving diverse sectors and laying the foundations for action to adapt.
The Highland Adapts initiative is developing a climate risk and opportunity assessment for the region. The approach to developing the assessment reflects the principles of the partnership. The assessment will value formal data and evidence such as academic research and data provided by major organisations alongside local knowledge and lived experience from Highland communities. The assessment will be codeveloped with people from across the Highlands and will be made freely available for all.
Highland Adapts has already begun to form research and practice collaborations including with the University of East Anglia OpenCLIM project team. The OpenCLIM team provided a PhD student placement during early 2022 to assess how the climate risk assessment needs of partners in Highland could be met by the OpenCLIM integrated assessment model. Highland Adapts will continue to work with the OpenCLIM team as the Highland risk assessment is developed.
The Highland Adapts website and social media channels are used to share information, stories and experiences and will continue to grow and develop as the initiative progresses with delivering its ambitious work programme. The Highland Adapts partners are working towards a joined-up approach to communications where each of the partners routinely promote Highland Adapts messages and outputs and contribute content that can be shared. The Highland Climate Charter, published in 2022 has been developed by Highland Adapts and the North Highlands and Islands Climate Hub and aims to raise awareness of climate change, its impacts and to build a momentum across Highland where individuals, communities, organisations and businesses are working together towards a transformational and prosperous climate ready Highland. The Charter is a call to action for individuals and community groups and is contributing towards building collective awareness and action. View the Highland Climate Charter.
The Highland Adapts Communication sub-group is a key part of the overarching Highland Adapts Governance model and will continue to play a vital role in helping the partnership achieve its purpose.
This case study was prepared by the Transboundary Adaptation Learning Exchange (TalX). To learn more about TalX, please click here.
- A global community for climate change adaptation in mountains
- Climate resilient businesses: FirstGroup UK Bus (Scotland)
- Adaptation to support field sports (salmon fishing) on Scottish estates
- Adapting Scotland's forests for resilience to climate change
- Screening for natural hazards to inform a climate change risk assessment for Scotland's historic environment
- Creating a city-wide adaptation action plan and vision with Edinburgh