The First Minister, who represented Scotland at the historic Paris climate conference in December 2015, said on 6 May that there is considerable agreement on stepping up our ambition to tackle climate change and protect our environment. We hope the Paris Agreement will avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which would inevitably fall on the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad. But Scotland's climate has already changed over the past 50 years and we expect that further change is inevitable, so adapting and being resilient to climate change is a very important part of our climate response.
Winter 2015-16 saw many communities in Scotland experiencing very serious flooding and damage from storms Desmond, Eva, Frank, Gertrude and Henry. Along with the severe weather of winter 2010-11, recent years have clearly demonstrated how important the climate is to Scotland. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of extreme events, but may also offer some opportunities. Government, the public sector, businesses, communities and members of the public all have a role to play in tackling and adapting to climate change.
2015 was the warmest year on record for the planet Earth: for the first time the global average temperature reached 1°C warmer than at the start of the twentieth century. UK land and sea surface temperatures have similarly increased, particularly since the 1970s. The global monthly average level of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) in our atmosphere passed 400 parts per million for the first time in March 2015.
The historic Paris Agreement in December is the first truly global action plan to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C, and pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Current pledges by over 180 countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions could limit global temperature rise to around 3°C (although a wide range of outcomes is possible). The EU will cut its emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and take part in mechanisms to ratchet up global action in the years ahead. The Paris Agreement is an important step in encouraging other countries to match Scotland's level of ambition and action.
Scotland's leadership on climate change was praised by Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN climate body, when she visited Scotland in March 2016. Thanks to the efforts of everyone in Scotland, we have already cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 38.4% since 1990, much more than the 31.7% originally envisaged. We are well on the way to the target of a 42% reduction by 2020 set by the Scottish Parliament. We now generate 57% equivalent electricity demand from renewables, and have delivered our 500 megawatts target for community renewables five years early and our 12% target for energy efficiency improvement was already at the required level in 2013, seven years ahead of schedule. The low carbon and renewable energy sector already employs more than 21,400 people.
Scotland has always seen adaptation as an important part of our climate response. The Adaptation Sub Committee ( ASC) of the Committee on Climate Change is our independent adviser. The ASC will publish an independent report on adaptation in Scotland in September 2016.
A five-yearly update to the 2012 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment is underway, with new evidence to be published by the ASC on 12 July 2016 and the UK Government final report in January 2017. The aim is to help policy-makers by assessing the magnitude of risks and whether action is required in the next five-years. An evidence report for Scotland is being prepared.
Some headline results of the evidence report are already available. As a result of climate change, heavy rain and high river flows, especially in winter, will become increasingly likely and an increasing frequency and severity of flooding in the UK is to be expected. Seven of the ten wettest years on record for the UK have been since 1998, with trends towards increasing annual rainfall totals, particularly in Scotland and northwest England. Sea level rise and increased wave action on the UK coastline is expected to accelerate the process of coastal change. The Adaptation Sub-Committee has also commissioned studies on plausible but extreme risks as a form of "stress-testing" the UK's adaptation plans.
In the course of the next year we will have the latest scientific advice on Scotland's current and future climate risks, as well as independent advice on the direction we need to take to make sure Scotland can meet the challenges and opportunities climate change presents.