IT’S an old-fashioned place to hear about the future. The Boisdale in London’s wealthy Belgravia is all wood panelling, cigar terraces and subdued lighting. It is Caledonian-themed. Pictures of men in kilts firing rifles or standing in glens adorn the walls. The place “fulfils the wildest Jacobite fantasies with its tartan extravaganza and celebration of Scottish food and whisky…” according to one review.

So, stood on a tartan carpet amidst a monied fantasy of 1746, I was hearing about how the world may look in 2045, and about how the billionaires are preparing.

“We look at signals, and project forward 10 years hence. What could the impacts be of the significant trends we’re seeing?” Professor Joe Little explained.

Little is a “Futures Thinking Practitioner”. He is also an adviser to the chief futurist at Deloitte, the massive multinational financial risk firm. He and others like him try to read trends in the tea leaves in the present, and then divine for big corporations and governments what the impacts of such trends could be. Climate change is high on his agenda.

Little is also a Scot, and takes a big interest in affairs here. And he had some big warning to sound for Glasgow.

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“If you look at where we’re going with the climate right now, people are going to move towards liveable climates. If we’re moving beyond [global temperature increases of] 1.5 degrees, and are looking towards 3, or 3.5 degrees – which are now being touted as a likely outcome of climate change – then people are living in environments which are going to become unlivable and they’ll have to move somewhere else.”

People currently living in the most vulnerable areas will begin to move across borders, becoming climate refugees.

And the “somewhere else” that will be most attractive to those seeking refuge? Ottawa. Glasgow. Cities in the North, even in Siberia.

So explains Little: “Glasgow and others. These are [amongst] the cities at least risk from the global climate crisis. If you are moving around the planet, where would you go? Glasgow is very desirable.

“Ottawa has already taken action. They are building policies around receiving, homing and putting to work climate refugees.”

Little has presented the Glasgow scenario in Scotland to interested academic audiences. It is just a scenario based on signals, he insists. But it is a stark reminder of how different the world – including Scotland – will look in just 10 years’ time.

A European Parliament briefing agrees with Little.

More than 300 million people have been displaced due to floods, droughts and other climatic events. At the moment, these people are mainly remaining within their own states, relocating to safer places within wider social and familial networks. These limited climate-induced movements are likely to increase in scope and frequency. Soon enough, refugees will be forced beyond national boundaries.

The National: The Scottish Government's Building a New Scotland white paper on migrationThe Scottish Government's Building a New Scotland white paper on migration

The European Parliament report quotes a high-end estimate of 1.2 billion climate refugees possible by 2050.

There is an irony in Little being the man bringing this discussion to the table. He worked with oil and gas companies for decades, playing a small role in fuelling the ongoing disasters. And he’s been based out of the south-east of England his entire career, a place set to be scorched come the three-degree temperature rises.

It seemed a career choice distinctly lacking in foresight, in fact.

How much stock should we take of Futurist scenarios, I asked Little. What have they got right?

“Well, the impact of a pandemic had been simulated [prior to 2020]. And guess what? The stockpiling, the adherence to religious festivals, the youngsters still going to raves, the protests eventually happening on the streets – these were all predicted. And behaviour was simulated long beforehand by the World Bank, the World Economic Forum; the Institute for the Future ran the simulations.

“The businesses that took part in these simulations were the ones best prepared for the pandemic. They were able to get the playbook out, they had a plan for what was happening. Those who had not prepared were the ones that went out of business.”

And are governments listening to them, or is it just the big billionaire business boys tapping into the future and placing their bets accordingly? Little was hesitant to reply.

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“The [UK] Government is … moving in the direction of being better prepared in terms of scenarios. But they are coming from behind, as shown in the pandemic.”


Little was clear about the source of his Glasgow scenario. Climate migrancy is already well under way.

“We’re seeing signals across the world of people who are moving for climate reasons. In California, there are people not wishing to lose their property to wildfires, and they see that things aren’t going to get better, so they are moving out of that area.

“We’re seeing people in Sub-Saharan, and Saharan Africa moving further north, and unfortunately becoming the small boat refugees that we see. These migrations have a big climate element in [their motivation] already.

“If you look historically, people move around for various reasons, and climate is always a substantial reason. Right back to where we based ourselves in Africa, climate was a driver for tribe movement way back then.”

This is true, of course. Climate has shifted significantly over the millennia, with huge impacts on human movement.

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The Medieval Warm Period was just what its name implies – a few centuries from about 750AD to 1350AD when Europe in particular got a bit cosier. Agriculture expanded and altered so much that England had vineyards. In Scotland, we could farm much higher up into the glens, increasing the number of people that could be sustained in upland regions.

Greenland and Iceland were settled in this period, as migrants explored new opportunities. Things then cooled off again for us. Greenland was abandoned. The Scottish glens became far less amenable to agriculture.

In the 1690s, the Little Ice Age was a cool period for Europe. The climate shift contributed to a series of terrible harvests in Scotland, causing famine that killed tens of thousands.

These climactic events are generally understood to be more regionalised. We’re headed for a shift that is more permanent and more global.

As I left the Boisdale Belgravia and its rich man’s club interior, I had two particularly nagging thoughts.

The first was; are the powerful, the economic and political leaders, really giving up on slowing climate change?

And the other was; how the hell will Scotland cope with a serious increase in the number of people coming here seeking refuge?

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On the first point, I fear the very worst.

This is a Westminster election year, and no-one is putting climate action anywhere near the top of their agenda. The Tories, of course, are keen to issue as many licences for North Sea drilling as they can before their sojourn out of power. Labour, for their part, are saying that they’ll respect all licences the Tories give out, and use fossil fuel income to build nuclear reactors in England.

Reform UK – a coming force south of the Border – state that “we are better to adapt to warming, rather than pretend we can stop it”. And will campaign to abandon even our half-hearted attempts to reach net zero.

The SNP have lost their way on oil, also. Under Sturgeon, there was a clear preference against fossil fuels. In 2021, the SNP declared that Scotland was a “world leader in tackling climate change”.

Recently, the Climate Change Committee reported that the Scottish Government will miss its 2030 targets, and that we are “significantly” off track in our push to decarbonise the economy. The Government response was not to redouble our efforts and get serious, but rather to state that we will indeed miss these targets, but might yet hit later ones. There’s a lack of urgency.

So with the seeming collapse in political will, the worst is likely to occur. Climate refugees are to become a new part of our reality, and we will need to respond. Do we have the ability to cope with what’s coming?

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“I would really worry about what capacity there is [to welcome large-scale arrivals],” a director of a charity told me. They work to help asylum seekers, refugees and New Scots settle, and help them access their rights during their time in Scotland. They preferred to comment anonymously.

“I mean, we have space – the physical space in Scotland – for people to come. The population density is relatively low outside the Central Belt.

“We also have a need. We have got labour shortages in all sorts of industries. This is a disconnect between UK Government policy and Scotland. We’ve got a big skills gap, we need skilled workers. We have a need for younger people.

But we don’t have the infrastructure to practically build a life here and feel included.

Housing stock is a big issue. We have houses but not in good condition. Local authorities don’t have enough stock.”

And there is always the issue of integration. I recently stayed in Stromness in Orkney. There’s a hotel in the centre of town that forms a focal point. Until recently, the hotel pub was a bouncing local venue. New outside owners have taken it over and shut the pub. I heard noisy complaints about these new owners and their nefarious schemes.

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“They buy hotels then turn them into hostels for asylum seekers, charging the government fortunes,” I was told. I noticed on local Facebook groups that arguments were breaking out between Stromness residents and the hotel owners. Folk were really uncomfortable about the prospect of refugees being settled in their town.

My charity contact does see a bit of that local wariness about new arrivals. “There will always be a vocal minority against it,” they said, but they remained confident that “most people are open to New Scots once they actually meet and chat”.

Little was very keen to emphasise that the example of Glasgow receiving a particularly high number of climate refugees 10 years from now is just one scenario. But the fact that those in the corridors of power – in government policy, in financial risk management – are expecting global temperature rises of three degrees and planning for the drastic consequences, set off warning sirens.

We, here, the normal people in Dundee, in Aberdeen, in Glasgow, are not prepared. Not mentally, not economically, and certainly not infrastructurally for what may well be coming in just a few years’ time.

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