IT’S often said that while others complain about high winds or expect them to change direction, a true leader adjusts the sails.

Right now, the challenges ahead of us are the strongest headwinds Scotland has faced in years. An unprecedented pandemic is already beginning to have disastrous economic consequences. As the furlough scheme begins to wind down from August, redundancy notices are on the horizon for many.

At the same time, we face the countdown to catastrophic climate change – and the decisions we make in the next 12 months will determine whether we reach our goal of net carbon emissions by 2045.

It’s time to adjust our sails. So the Scottish Government’s announcement of an advisory group on economic recovery, to shape our plans to rebuild a greener economy after the pandemic, is timely. In fewer than 18 months, their choices will come under intense scrutiny, with the world’s eyes on Scotland when Glasgow hosts the COP26 climate change summit.

Like every nation, we face a fork in the road.

One path starts with propping up the dying fossil fuel industry with taxpayers’ money, and falling in line with the radio silence of the UK Government on green measures to restart the economy.

But the oil and gas sector is already relying on massive subsidies from the UK Government, and North Sea reserves are dwindling. Bailing these firms out with more public money would be like plugging a leaky bucket – trapping Scottish energy workers in low-security jobs with a short shelf life, even more vulnerable to the next crisis.

Or Scots can do what we’ve always done best: choose the road less travelled. We can embrace a bold future with plentiful, secure jobs, and people and the planet at the heart of our plans. When the world comes to Scotland at the end of next year for the historic COP26 climate change summit, we could be ready to open our doors with plans to be proud of, and a country thriving with good jobs, innovative technology, clean air and strong leadership.

Recommendations out today from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which I chair, proves there are plenty of ideas for the Scottish Government to choose from. Almost at the stroke of a pen, the Scottish Government could kickstart the economy while creating clean air, safer jobs and better health for this generation and the next.

First, we can create scores of quality jobs for the people left out of work by the coronavirus crisis, by investing in the energy technology of the future. In the last century, North Sea drilling was a bold step forward for this country. For decades it brought prosperity and security to thousands of Scots – but at enormous cost to the planet. Now, the industry is dying, and 30,000 North Sea jobs are at risk. So it’s time to set our sights on the future again, and invest in its replacement.

Retraining could take this brilliant workforce and set them to work on building the technologies of the future here in Scotland. We could create jobs for our talented North Sea workers in renewable energy like island wind farms, and technology that captures and store carbon emissions before they can damage the atmosphere. With help from EU guidance to make sure we’re investing in proven, effective technology, we can create thousands of jobs that cut our carbon emissions and protect our planet.

Second, we can invest in improvements to our homes and public buildings – making them warmer, more energy-efficient, and better protected from floods – and create thousands more jobs to kick-start the building industry. A new energy efficiency scheme would lift Scots out of fuel poverty, stop us getting sick from cold and damp homes, and cut damaging carbon emissions too.

Third, we can make Scotland’s open spaces cleaner, greener and more beautiful than ever. New skilled workers would make up a “Green Land Army” to plant trees, restore parks and peatland, and create spaces for wildlife to flourish. More cycle and walking paths, and greener public transport, will mean easier ways of getting around, safer streets, and cleaner air to breathe.

Finally, as we transition away from the furlough system, we can be one of the first countries in the world to pioneer a Universal Basic Income. A sum of money paid to everyone in Scotland could ease poverty, cut through the complexities of the benefits system, and help support people into good jobs. After a coronavirus outbreak that exposed the huge inequalities that still exist in Scotland, this would be the first step on a path to a fairer future.

Next year, we’ll be on display to the world at Glasgow’s global climate change summit, and it’s time to start asking ourselves what the world will see. A country looking back to the last century, still shovelling money into collapsing dirty energy industries, and thousands of oil and gas workers one more crisis away from being out of work? Or a nation forging its own path, investing in the best technology in the world, protecting the climate, and showing the Westminster Government what Scotland is capable of?

This pandemic has been devastating for us all to live through. I hope I don’t see anything like it again in my lifetime, or our children’s.

We will recover: resilience is in Scotland’s DNA. But the choices we make in the process will tell us everything we need to know about the courage and ambition of our country, and of its leaders.

Graeme Sweeney is a member of the Scottish First Minister’s Energy Advisory Board and chair of the Children’s Investment Fund foundation