For the past few weeks, I have been working on material for the UK-wide Covid Public Inquiry.

I have been answering a large number of questions about the decisions the Scottish Government took, the reasons for them, and what we learned along the way. It is part of a necessary process of scrutiny of government decision-making during the most difficult period in our recent history.

The findings of this inquiry, and the parallel Scottish Inquiry, will be important in understanding what we got right and what we could – possibly should – have done differently. If another pandemic strikes – as many experts believe is likely – we need to make sure that lessons are properly learned and applied.

However, although this is a necessary process, I don’t mind admitting that I am finding it hard and quite emotional at times. The pandemic was the most challenging period of my eight years as First Minister and being reminded of the decisions we had to take and, though they were necessary and inescapable, just how terrible the impact was on so many people, has been difficult – though, of course, it is nothing compared to the suffering of those who lost loved ones or still struggle with the symptoms of long Covid.

But the process is reminding me of something else too – the enormous efforts and sacrifices made by the public in the face of a massive and dangerous threat. I have been reminded of how it was possible to set out, openly and honestly – as I always tried to do – what the situation was and persuade people to do really difficult things to protect ourselves and each other.

A pandemic is, of course, unlike any other situation we face. The threat of it was immediate and, at times, overwhelming. But it strikes me that the approach that helped build a shared understanding of both the problem and the actions necessary to solve it during the pandemic, might also serve us well as we seek to address other big challenges.

Climate change is a threat of a similar magnitude to the pandemic. It might not be as immediate – though it is much more immediate than many politicians seem willing to accept – but it is very real. We can already see the impacts of severe weather events around the world, including here on our own shores, and over the years ahead it will become a bigger and bigger threat to our way of life.

To be blunt, time is running out to avoid the consequences of it being truly catastrophic and existential. But hope is not lost. It is not, quite yet, too late. We can still act and have a duty to do so.

This means, in my view, that there is a pressing need for governments to be straight with people: to set out clearly the nature of the challenge, what needs to be done, and how they intend to ensure that those who have done most to cause the problem – big multinational companies in the world’s richest countries – bear a fair share of the cost of fixing it, while ordinary people are supported to make the necessary changes in an affordable way.

But instead of this kind of approach – so urgently needed – we have a Prime Minister who is trying to turn the climate emergency into the latest culture war. Politicians routinely accuse each other of all sorts of political wrongdoing, often with too much hyperbole and overblown rhetoric – but last week’s announcements by the Prime Minister were truly shameful and a real abdication of the responsibility all politicians have to the people we serve now and to future generations.

Not content with rowing back on some of the policies that are essential to tackling climate change – moving to electric cars, for example – he engaged in the worst kind of populism by claiming to be halting policies that his government had never proposed in the first place, like imposing a tax on meat and forcing everyone to have seven recycling bins.

Instead of focusing minds on the real threat we all face in the shape of climate change, he chose to scaremonger about imagined threats in an attempt to stir up a phoney culture war and draw phantom dividing lines with his political opponents.

It is just to be hoped that Keir Starmer doesn’t allow the Tories to spook him into following them down the wrong path, as he has sadly done on so many other issues – supporting the despicable rape clause, and abandoning a commitment to progressive taxation, for example.

Thankfully, in Scotland, we still have a government committed to showing leadership on climate change – but because so many of the necessary powers are reserved to Westminster, there is a real danger that Sunak’s backsliding and gameplaying will frustrate Scotland’s efforts too.

The good news is that the Tories are facing electoral wipe-out at the next election, and not before time. But if they are not to get away with inflicting even more damage between now and then, this sell-out on climate change must be vigorously opposed.