THE last few weeks have been very challenging for us all.

Our way of life has been turned upside down as people distance from friends and family, many businesses close and, sadly, families in Scotland mourn the loss of loved ones to coronavirus. And all this as our heroic key workers strive to keep us safe and well.

Our ability to embrace the new ways of living and thinking has been striking, as has our resilience, adaptability and creativity in the face of adversity. For that we should all be very proud.

Covid-19 is one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime, and our actions have to reflect its magnitude. There are cautious signs that our sacrifices are working, but it is essential we all stay the course of lockdown to protect this fragile progress.

There is no doubt that more challenges lie ahead, as we all adapt to a "new normal", under which we will have to learn to live with coronavirus. However, as we see early glimmers of hope that Scotland’s approach to suppressing Covid-19 is working, as Environment Secretary I believe we have a chance to have a conversation about the other major global emergencies which have not gone away – climate change and biodiversity loss.

It is just over a year since the First Minister declared a climate emergency, and since then we have acted decisively to respond to that emergency.

We have introduced some of the most ambitious climate-change legislation in the world to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2045, and published the vision and outcomes of our new Environment Strategy ( which emphasises the fundamental role our natural environment plays in supporting "a fairer, healthier, more inclusive society".

That strategy refers to the health benefits that improving air quality can provide. It stresses how regular access to clean, green space can improve physical and mental wellbeing as well as guard against future illness and provide opportunities to establish lifelong healthy activity. It also flags up how those can help tackle inequalities. I hear from constituents that their daily walks in nature have been a significant solace during these trying times.

While we remain in lockdown, in anticipation of a "new normal", we have a chance to reimagine the Scotland around us, and to begin building a greener, fairer and more equal society and economy. Our starting point has very definitely changed, but our ambitions need not.

The last few weeks have meant emptier and quieter roads and skies. Like most, I have missed the hustle and bustle of lively everyday life, but I think there are serious conversations to be had about the lessons we can learn from this.

Early analysis of seven urban air quality monitoring stations, for instance, shows decreases of particulates as a result of reduced traffic on our roads. Some examples include a 40% reduction on Union Street in Aberdeen – and a whopping 67% reduction on St John’s Road in Edinburgh.

These are clearly artificial decreases – and not to be celebrated as a result of the virus – but they do show how quickly good air quality can return. Also, many of us have been able to move to home working. Teleconference mishaps aside, this has been largely successful and a lifeline for many businesses. This week I took part in a successful parliamentary committee session with colleagues the length and breadth of the country.

When lockdown ends, I suspect more companies will think seriously about continuing with a home working option now that they can see it is doable.

If fewer people do choose to travel to work daily this could mean less traffic on our roads and more people living rurally.

I wonder if, in time, this could make a life and career in Scotland’s rural towns and island communities a more viable option for all, especially for our young people who so often feel they have to leave their hometowns for employment in the larger towns and cities.

Similarly, I hope that once we are able to travel further and more freely, people will continue supporting local food producers and shops who have kept communities fed in these challenging times.

In all of these ways, this experience has made a strong case indeed for a green economic and societal recovery, when the time is right.

Roseanna Cunningham is Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform