IN recent years Scotland has established itself as a leader in climate action.

From successfully hosting COP26 in Glasgow, our world-class renewable energy sector and funding towards the loss and damage that developing nations incur from the impacts of climate change, it’s a record we can be proud of.

Nicola Sturgeon deserves considerable credit for prioritising our journey to net zero, and it’s vital that her successor continues this national mission. The leadership debate is taking place amid a backdrop of accelerating climate impacts at home and abroad. Scotland experienced its hottest day ever in 2022 and later that year a third of Pakistan was devastated by some of the worst flooding in its history.

We cannot afford our reliance on oil and gas which drives these impacts. That’s why the outgoing First Minister made a welcome change to the Scottish Government’s approach to new North Sea oil and gas exploration. That’s been one of the most debated aspects of the three leadership candidate’s climate plans.

But we’re still relying too much on oil and gas to travel, heat our homes and even fertilise our crops. This is driving the cost of living and climate crises. Ending this reliance must be at the heart of Scotland’s economic strategy.

With the price of fossil fuels reaching record levels, too many Scottish households are spending too much of their income on just keeping warm. Basing our economy on Scotland’s abundant home-grown renewables will lower household bills, protect them from unstable prices and help ensure a safe climate.

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Today 80 per cent of the energy we use is provided by fossil fuels, accounting for 75% of our annual climate emissions, with just 20%, mainly electricity, coming from renewables. If we’re to meet our climate targets, over half of our energy must come from green sources by the end of the decade. This means a switch to electric heating and vehicles, insulating homes and encouraging more walking and cycling and better public transport.

By doing so we can also reduce air pollution and improve people’s health. Fitting insulation and heat pumps to homes will help put more money back into people’s pockets and back into local economies.

So how will Scotland’s new First Minister make it easier for households and businesses to take up these opportunities? They will have to be clear about what changes are required and by when. This allows industry to plan, and crucially, continue reducing costs. Public money will be needed to help vulnerable households.

Scotland isn’t doing this alone. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), renewables will be the top source of electricity globally by 2025 and, in Europe, installations of heat pumps have jumped 35% in a year.

Securing this vital investment is a blueprint for a cleaner, healthier and climate-friendly economy. It’s an economic and social strategy for the 21st strategy, and one that’s vital for Scotland’s next First Minister to embrace. Scotland is well placed to lead from the front, as it has done many times before.

Gina Hanrahan is Head of Policy at WWF Scotland