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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Climate change resilience for charities

This opinion piece is over 7 years old

​Julia Hutchison explains why charities should be addressing the coming threats posed by climate change

In April, I wrote a blog for Third Force News about climate change resilience for charities. It’s a good moment to revisit this topic, with the publication of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report from the body which advises the government in this area. From a Scottish perspective, there is a specific summary for Scotland.

Why does this matter to your charity?

Julie Hutchison

Charities that spot the risks early, and adapt or develop coping mechanisms, will be more resilient

Julie Hutchison

Globally, 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Flooding and coastal change are presenting risks to communities and there are also risks posed to our health and wellbeing. Natural resources we rely on for food production are being affected and new and emerging pests and diseases present risks. This sets the background context within which charities operate, and their beneficiary, donor, employee and volunteer populations will be impacted by these risks, as will the charity’s other assets. Charities that spot the risks early, and adapt or develop coping mechanisms, will be more resilient both operationally and strategically.

Rural, wildlife and environmental charities

Charities with a nature or outdoors focus will want to consider chapter three of the Scotland summary, which identifies the status of various risks to the natural environment. It notes that species are moving northwards as temperatures rise. The reduction of snow cover and changing migration patterns of birds are also mentioned. The report identifies that more action is needed on a number of fronts, including addressing risks to agriculture.

Health and wellbeing

Extreme weather consequences for users of our healthcare system are identified as a known risk, requiring further research. There are around 2,000 heat-related deaths a year across the UK. For charities operating medical or care facilities, there are implications here around building adaptations. The report also points to risks to culturally-valued structures and the wider historic environment, where climate-related hazards damage these sites. The scale of current and future risks has not been fully established in this area, but charities with a focus on heritage buildings will already be aware of the repair and maintenance costs arising from weather events. Financing such repairs will be a major cost for such charities.

Much more can be said about flooding and the risks to life and property. The Scottish summary covers these in chapter five.

Updating your risk register

So, what can and should charities be doing now? I’d be surprised if climate change risk appears on the risk register of many Scottish charities, but that is something which is ripe for change, given the broad range of issues identified. Charity boards should welcome the detailed analysis in this report, which helpfully categorises the risks into four levels of urgency. These are more action needed, more research needed, sustain current action, and maintain a watching brief. This is an approach some might like to adopt more broadly in charity risk management:

Risk management and the sustainability of a charity are tasks for a charity’s board. To help your board assess these issues, there’s more information at

Julie Hutchison is the charities specialist at Standard Life Wealth.