Nicola Sturgeon stepping down as First Minister seemed to catch many of us by surprise.

Whilst we wait to see who will be chosen to take on the role, many will be hoping that the new first minister adopts Sturgeon’s positive rhetoric and ambition on tackling the climate crisis, and will be ready to lead the bold action we urgently need to reduce emissions and champion climate justice.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, together with Scottish Environment LINK, has written to the SNP leadership candidates to seek reassurance about their commitment to tackling the climate and nature crises, and urging them to pick up the pace of action if they become first minister.

READ MORE: SNP leadership contenders urged to 'pick up the pace' on climate change

There is no time to wait - Scotland has missed seven of its last 11 emission reduction targets, and the UN has said the crucial goal of keeping global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees is ‘on life support’, with extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and devastating: all rich nations need to up their game to urgently deliver emissions reductions and finance for countries suffering the worst impacts now.

Climate isn’t the only crisis that will land on the new first minister’s desk.

Cost of living, food and energy security, health - there is clearly a lot to do, but these are overlapping crises that shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, as they share common causes and solutions.

Taking action on climate delivers a range of benefits that also address other issues, for example, insulating homes properly reduces energy use and improves public health, and extending free public transport takes cars off the road and also helps tackle inequality.

Scotland is seen by many as a leader on climate, and can be rightly proud of positive actions that have been taken under the current First Minister’s leadership, and responding to the concerns of the third sector.

The National: Robinson said the next first minister should commit to tackling climate targetsRobinson said the next first minister should commit to tackling climate targets (Image: Stop Climate Chaos)

In particular, being the first nation to commit finance to help address climate induced Loss and Damage while also starting the process to plan for a Just Transition for workers and communities, moving away from a policy to maximise oil and gas recovery from the North Sea, and passing legislation with cross-party support to set some of the most ambitious climate targets in the world.

The COP26 climate talks in Glasgow further helped to put the spotlight on Scotland’s climate ambitions, and, positively, the Scottish Government used the opportunity to listen to and champion the issues raised by Global South experts using platforms created by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and other NGOs.

The First Minister encouraged other rich nations to follow Scotland’s lead on Loss and Damage finance, and see this as “an act of reparations, rather than charity” - going further than any other Global North leader.

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At a time when we desperately need climate leadership, this was a powerful demonstration of support for climate justice.

However, there are two sides to Scotland’s climate story. Despite the positive ambition and rhetoric in recent years, delivery remains inadequate.

In December, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official advisors on reducing emissions, raised serious concerns about the likelihood of Scotland meeting its 2030 emission reduction targets, saying these were in danger of becoming “meaningless” without a clear delivery plan and urgent action.

Disappointingly, they also reported that Scotland was losing its lead on climate action on the rest of the UK. This is not just a moral failing but risks undermining Scotland's reputation for influence and innovation on the international stage.

When every country in the world is on a journey to be more sustainable, there is opportunity in leadership.

In a recent exchange at First Minister's Questions, Sturgeon indicated that the government would respond to issues raised by the CCC “in Spring'', and this must be proportionate to the seriousness of the report and form one of the key priorities for the new first minister.

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There will be an opportunity to demonstrate commitment and ambition on climate early on in the new FM’s reign, with a new Climate Change Plan currently being drafted, and expected to be published in November.

This new plan needs to include transformational policies across all sectors, but in particular transport, agriculture, and heating, where action has been lagging behind, and it must clearly demonstrate how these new policies will contribute to meeting climate targets.

The First Minister recently said that this document is “one of the most important to be published over the period ahead” - we sincerely hope her successor agrees and continues to make climate the priority for the government it needs to be, and renews and deepens Scotland's position as a credible world leader on climate.