DEADLY summers similar to the one that killed tens of thousands of people across Europe earlier this decade will become frequent in Scotland over the next century, according to climate projections unveiled yesterday.
Average summer temperatures in Scotland will rise by about 4C in the worst-case scenarios predicted by the Met Office.
Hottest summer days will be about 6C warmer by 2080, resulting in scorching 32.5C temperatures in Scotland, akin to those currently found in Mediterranean countries.
Experts warn that, although the idea of basking in sunnier summers may be appealing, the temperature increases could bring a huge array of hazards – from drought to disease.
In 2003, Europe suffered a heatwave that killed more than 50,000 people. This type of summer would become common, according to climate scientists.
The long-awaited UK Climate Projections 2009 study was unveiled yesterday, with predictions of temperature and rainfall based on three emissions scenarios.
The worst-case scenario will occur if little or no action is taken globally to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
In this case, summers in Scotland would not only be warmer, but also about a fifth drier.
Winters would be warmer and wetter, with rainfall increasing by about 20 per cent.
Sea levels around Edinburgh would rise by more than 30cm, putting even more homes at risk of flooding.
And snowfall would reduce by more than 60 per cent in the Highlands, potentially spelling the end of the ski industry.
Even under the best-case scenario, in which there is a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions globally, summer temperatures would rise by about 2.6C by 2080, and there would still be about 15 per cent more rain in winter, and about 10 per cent less in summer.
WWF Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon said: "A warmer Scotland doesn't sound like too bad an idea at first but the reality is that the weather is set to become more extreme and more unpredictable. That means more floods, storms, droughts and heatwaves.
"This scientifically robust analysis of the potential impacts of climate change in Scotland and the rest of the UK predicts a range of future scenarios from unpleasant to unthinkable. "Many parts of the world will be much harder hit but even in Scotland these results paint a picture of a very unappealing future if the world does not get serious about serious emissions reduction."
Regardless of which emissions scenario is used, the Met Office predicts very similar changes in temperature and rainfall up to about 2050. This, it says, is because the impacts of climate change have already been determined for the next 30 to 40 years by our past and present emissions.
This means that in Scotland there is guaranteed to be a summer temperature increase of about 2C, an increase in winter rainfall of about 10 per cent, and a decrease in rain in summer of about 10 per cent over the next four decades.
"Only after that do we have some control," said Professor John Mitchell, director of climate science at the Met Office.
This, he said, meant it was important to adapt to inevitable changes in the climate, as well as to try to prevent worse impacts further down the line.
He warned yesterday that even a 2C temperature increase would mean summers such as that which led to tens of thousands of deaths across Europe in 2003 would happen "every second year".
Dr Dixon said summers similar to 2003 would "certainly become much more frequent".
"It's not just that with exceptionally warm days people will keel over from heat waves. It's also that various bacteria will do better in warmer conditions, so there is certainly a disease potential there too," he said.
He added that he thought the agriculture sector, particularly in Fife, Perthshire and the Lothians, could also suffer, because of drought.
And he said there could be situations where water supplies to houses would have to be closed off due to shortages.
People would have to use buckets to take their allocation from a central supply.
"It's not that people will keel over and die because they haven't got enough water because extra supplies will be brought in.
"However, in the 21st century, the idea of having to collect it in buckets is quite scary."
He claimed transport would also be affected.
"Trains may have to travel more slowly because the rails get too warm and start to buckle. And on the roads, there would be more landslides and floods."
Stewart Stevenson, the climate change minister, said global warming was the "greatest environmental threat facing the world", but he added that Scotland was "already ahead of the game" by taking forward the "most ambitious and comprehensive climate change legislation anywhere in the world".
The Scottish Climate Change Bill, which will go to final vote on Wednesday, will set targets for an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050.
However, Sarah Boyack, Labour's environment spokeswoman, said it needed to go further, with a reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2020.
"Scotland needs to be prepared to push the boundaries to tackle the effects of global warming and that means getting everyone to reduce their emissions," she said.
LABOUR URGES TOUGHER TARGETS
THE SNP was yesterday challenged to set tougher targets in the Scottish Climate Change Bill.
Labour has tabled an amendment calling for 2020 emissions reduction targets of at least 40 per cent, rather than 34 per cent included in the draft legislation.
The SNP will bring in 42 per cent emissions reduction targets only if Europe agrees to tough targets after a conference in Copenhagen later this year.
The amendment will go to the vote on Wednesday, when the result is likely to be close because the Lib Dems and Greens also support tougher 2020 targets.