SO, Nicola Sturgeon really means business.

Days after declaring a climate emergency at SNP conference, the First Minister’s set to amend the Climate Change Bill in Holyrood with a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. “If advice says we can go further or go faster, we will do so. Scotland will lead by example.”

Wow. While the Commons debated the words, the Scottish Government was already drafting legislative change. That’s impressive. One academic said the new target constituted the “blueprint for a revolution”.

So game on.

But let’s be honest. Percentages leave most of the public cold. What’s the difference between a very sizeable cut in our contribution to global warming and an absolute end? How will our lives change and how quickly? And will the SNP continue to issue new licences to drill for oil in the North Sea?

The current proposed 90% emissions cut already means big change ahead. Electric buses, trains and cars must be standard transport modes by 2050 with employment brought closer to where people live by tougher, greener planning rules. Folk will have to abandon vehicles for journeys of 20 minutes or less – the majority of trips – and use bikes, electric bikes and Shanks’s pony instead. That sounds tough but it’s what the doctor is frantically ordering. Active travel should mean fewer gym memberships and less illness and medical intervention. It will also puncture the bubble of isolationism created by car manufacturers who depict commuters on “inspirational” but lonely, disconnected, unsustainable journeys through life. But that change to active travel won’t happen without protected Copenhagen lanes in cities so cyclists feel safe, a fund to get bikes to low-income households and chumming schemes to help folk break the inactivity of lifetimes. Scotland must also tackle aviation and shipping with electric/hydrogen ferries and electric planes for short hops – all being developed right now in go-ahead Orkney. By 2050 though, the annual summer flight to the sun may be a thing of the past.

In agriculture a 90% cut in emissions means we must cut current levels of meat and dairy consumption and production. That means almond milk not cow’s milk and more vegetarian diets, cutting out processed “beige” foods and resource-heavy meat pies and the like. Yip. Bye bye pies. Strict rules will maintain the quality of soils, water, vegetation, air and ecology in farming and reduce the chemical load that’s destroying the planet’s underpinning species and contaminating resources.

Tree-planting in Scotland will escalate rapidly because some emissions can be mitigated by forests which store carbon. But first we need a big debate. Should landowners be allowed to remove tenants for tree-planting grants or will the Scottish Government seize the chance to reform land ownership and diversify the rural economy? Secondly, how will those forests be used? According to energy lecturer Paul Tuohy, from Strathclyde University: “We need a forest ecosystem that captures and sinks carbon and doesn’t release it back into the atmosphere through industrial scale burning of wood or other biomass products.” So new forests will be planted for their carbon-fixing qualities not their cellulose-yielding capacity. Will that destroy the business model used by timber companies and if so, might community woodlands work better?

Long before 2050, we’ll need electric heating to reach the 90% target. That demands frank discussion about whether the big energy companies or volume house builders (with their mega-million pound bonuses) are up to the task of managing our transition to excellent, universal insulation and a massive expansion of district heating schemes. Our northern neighbours have distributed heat through hot water pipes like this for centuries in the cities and suburbs where most energy is consumed. Happily, the new, pioneering Queens Quay housing development at Clydebank has a district heating scheme powered by river source heat pumps (Scottish technology used for almost a decade in Drammen, Norway). But it’s taken ages to gain approval and the houses themselves are not nearly green enough. Building regulations must change so houses reduce the energy they use in the first place (passivhus) with photovoltaic roofs and thermal storage to synchronise heat pumps with clean energy on the grid.

CURRENTLY, though, the biggest heating problem is not new-build housing estates but existing housing stock powered by gas. The best way to finance a wholescale transfer to district heating and heat pumps is for the Scottish Government to announce an end date or a scaling-down of gas use with penalties for non-compliant big consumers like councils, housing associations and business. This would hasten investment in affordable, sustainable district heating schemes (DHS) especially if the Scottish Government gave district heating schemes a 30-year exemption from non-domestic rates and the same rights of development as broadband and water pipes. Common Weal will release a report today calling for a Scottish Energy Development Agency to get schemes off the ground all over Scotland. Such a Green Deal would create hundreds of thousands of heat pump and district heating construction jobs.

Industry will have to change dramatically in any scenario. By 2050 companies and investment funds will have divested from fossil fuels to avoid being left with “stranded assets” as oil-based products and services become economically unviable. Energy, imagination and investment are needed to replace materials like cement and plastics, but the Industrial Biotechnology innovation centre (IBioIC) at Strathclyde University has already become a hub of best practice and new ideas to make that transition smoother.

Oil and gas dependence must end by 2050. Back-up for intermittent wind can be minimised by electrical and thermal storage with smart controls, and delivered by wind-generated green hydrogen CCGT power plants. Scotland’s ideally placed to lead in this field thanks to our abundant renewable resources. But there can be no new oil fields in the North Sea except where they supply developing nations, because existing operations cause less eco-damage than drilling elsewhere from scratch. Will the SNP enforce such a moratorium? Earlier this week, former Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said that “we’re not going to stop emissions” and Brexit Minister Mike Russell said Scotland should continue to issue exploration licences for oil and gas.

THIS is, of course, the most difficult green thistle to grasp – for any government or people. It means a loss of jobs, revenue, convenience and the feedstock for almost every aspect of life in the oil era. But that era is coming to an end and according to existing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proposals, we must leave a third of currently exploitable fossil fuels in the ground. It’s hard to see how a climate emergency can be maintained whilst new North Sea exploration licences are issued.

Companies like Scottish Power have looked ahead, and chosen to drop all non-renewable energy sources. Others will follow. It would be foolish to deny that big disruption to jobs and supply chains lies ahead. But there are huge possibilities, too, if independence returns control over all energy policy and investment to Holyrood and the Scottish Government is bold enough to change the tax incentives and norms we’ve lived with for decades. It won’t happen if politicians fear a backlash from citizens who applaud climate emergencies but still collect their kids by car from school. It won’t happen if experts keep explaining our alternative future in words of seven syllables. Without realising how many proven renewable technologies exist right here in Scotland, citizens may panic and politicians may pull their punches.

So, civic Scotland must spread the word. Scotland’s museums could make 2020 the Year of Living Renewably, with models of green energy, transport, food and heating systems. Or what about a renewable version of the Empire Exhibition in Bellahouston Park in 1938 – promoting a green future rather than an imperial past? Seeing is believing and the public simply hasn’t seen enough to know that a green future is possible and desirable. We can change that.

Calling a climate emergency should give us all a kick up the backside – but gaining a collective sense of urgency isn’t enough. The Scottish Government must diminish the clout of short-cuts, cheap solutions and vested interests within policy-making and favour instead home-grown ideas, joined-up thinking, smart decentralised systems and long-term planning.

And if that conjures up a brand new country, which hardly looks like Britain, so be it.