IF you’re in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. Yet, despite us being in the greatest environmental hole we have ever seen, the UK Government is on the verge of allowing the development of a new oil field off the coast of Shetland.

The proposal would see the drilling of 150 million barrels of oil. At a time when we are seeing climate targets being missed, and record temperatures being hit around the world, this would be nothing short of environmental vandalism.

Like the burning waters at the Mexican peninsula or the scorching heat waves that have enveloped across North America, it is symptomatic of a system that puts fossil fuel extraction and the maximisation of short-term profit above all else.

The climate emergency is the defining challenge of our age. Future generations deserve a future, and we need to act now if we are to ensure it. That means urgently ramping up clean energy production and phasing out fossil fuels as soon as possible.

A lot of the coverage of the crisis presents it as something that lies in the future, but it is already having a catastrophic impact. A study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that thousands of people around the world are already dying of climate-change-related causes.

It is a global crisis that needs global solutions and co-ordination.

It is the biggest polluters that must take the biggest steps, whether they are governments or corporations. According to the Climate Accountability Institute, 20 companies alone account for one-third of all carbon emissions.

But the need for global action can’t be an excuse for individual governments and organisations to carry on with business as usual. Every community will be impacted, so we all have an interest in getting it right.

Over the last few weeks we have seen the brutal impact of flash flooding here in Edinburgh. Homes and businesses were flooded and damaged as we experienced two weeks worth of rain in only a few hours.

As the crisis worsens, these kinds of extreme weather events will only become more regular. And none of us wants to see that. So, whether it is the Edinburgh City Council, the Scottish Government or the UK Government, we all have a vital role to play.

It’s not just the environmental impact that will get worse through inaction. The financial costs will too. Every time that we delay meaningful action it means that the change we need to make will become even more severe and the timeframes even shorter.

Green technology has come a long way, and there are amazing scientific breakthroughs happening all the time, but the truth is that we already have a lot of the technology that can make a big difference. We just need to make better use of it.

The National: Stock image of a wind turbine

Far more can be invested in known technologies – rail, buses, bikes, home insulation, heat pumps, wind turbines, tidal turbines. It may not all be glamorous, but if governments do it now it can have a real practical impact.

Taking Scotland for example, we have a huge wealth of resources available and can lead not just the UK but Europe when it comes to renewables. We must use devolution to its limits and challenge the short-sighted and irresponsible approach from Westminster. But we can do so much more than that. With the full powers of independence we could do far more to create a greener recovery and stop new oil fields.

The eyes of the world will be on Scotland this November when world leaders gather in Glasgow for the Cop26 climate conference. They need to ensure that they live up to the urgency of the situation and deliver the real and lasting climate action that we need. They need to have humility and offer real solutions, not just more hot air.

The last 15 months have shown how interlinked our lives are and how much we rely on one another. Unfortunately, we have also seen the catastrophic impact of waiting too long to take action. We cannot do that again.

This generation of political leaders has more knowledge at its fingertips than every other generation combined. They have the power and resources to leave a great and sustainable inheritance to future generations.

That is one reason why, despite everything, I remain stubbornly optimistic. Before I was elected to Holyrood I was an engineer in renewables. I have seen the massive impact that government support can have and the transformative things that people in the sector are capable of.

We are at a historic crossroads and need to live-up to the challenge. History books will be written about this era and the things that governments and corporations did or didn’t do. One thing they will definitely not look favourably on is giving permission for even more drilling when we already knew about the huge risks and the scale of the threat we were facing.

But it’s not just the drilling that we need to stop, it is the mindset and worldview which has allowed it to go on for so long.

If we are to avoid an irreversible crisis then there must be a just transition now. We need it locally, we need it nationally and we need it internationally. Further inaction will mean more high risk oil and gas extraction, more flash floods and ever-worsening heat waves. We can build the fairer, greener and more sustainable world that we want to see. It just needs the vision and the commitment to do it.

On Monday July 19, I will be speaking at a demonstration for StopCambo against the proposed oil drilling in Shetland. You can join us from 4pm outside the Scottish Parliament.