SPEECHES can be powerful things, and there are speeches that can change everything.

A year ago it was the then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, whose reckless and dangerous mini-budget sent shockwaves through our economy and piled economic misery on millions of people.

In a mere 3339 words, he shredded any reputation for competence that the UK had left and did an immense amount of financial damage that would far outlast his tenure.

It was a shocking and arrogant act of political hubris and self-sabotage. It unleashed a disastrous economic experiment that was rightly ridiculed and condemned all across the political spectrum.

It was probably the single most destructive speech that any Tory had given over their 13 years of misrule. He may have been cheered to the rafters by his colleagues, but the results were catastrophic.

In the days that followed, inflation shot up, mortgage rates skyrocketed to levels unseen since 2008 and the value of the pound plunged. Much of the immediate media coverage focused on the ups and downs of Westminster personalities and MPs, but the real story was the terrible human cost. Almost all of us knew people who had their lives turned upside down.

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It was made even worse because it came on top of more than a decade of Tory cuts and austerity. All over our country there were already real people hurting as a result of decisions made by Tory politicians who would never feel the pain of what they had just done.

The political ramifications were severe. Within weeks, the then prime minister, Liz Truss, and Kwarteng had been forced to leave Downing Street in well-earned shame and infamy. But their dire economic legacy is still with us, and it will be for a long time.

I have no doubt that Rishi Sunak’s climate climbdown speech will prove to be just as significant. The impact will not be as immediate, but the results will be felt for years to come.

It was a turning point; the moment that the UK Government stopped even pretending to care about the disastrous impact of its environmental policies. Surrounded by Union Jacks, I’m not convinced that even he believed in what he was saying. It was a cry of isolation and climate surrender.

What the Prime Minister offered was a series of very real and damaging commitments to slow down the phasing out of diesel cars and delay the transition to net zero.

The National: Rishi Sunak met with young farmers the day after rolling back the UK's climate policiesRishi Sunak met with young farmers the day after rolling back the UK's climate policies (Image: Alastair Grant)

The reality is that the UK is already far behind where it needs to be in terms of its climate obligations. It doesn’t even appear to be trying to hit its targets, and this week’s intervention will only make things worse.

It was very short-sighted and risks shutting the door on an economic boom. A just transition isn’t only vital for our environment, but also for our economy. With this kind of investment and support we can have cleaner air and streets and can deliver the high-quality and well-paid green jobs of the future.

It must have been the first time that a Tory PM had somehow managed to unite the Ford Motor Company and Greenpeace in opposition. It was a cynical and transparent ploy, the actions of a desperate Prime Minister in the death throes of a government that has long abandoned any semblance of legitimacy and is more focused on the next General Election than anything else.

There is a lot of damage that he can do between now and then. Having already promised to support 100 new oil and gas exploration licences, Sunak has the power to commit to decades of further extraction and environmental ruin that Labour will do little to oppose.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Right now, world leaders are gathered in New York to talk about solutions. What message is the Prime Minister sending them? He’s saying that the UK has given up and has offered a blank cheque to other leaders to do the same.

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It is easy to talk about the climate crisis as if it was a far and distant future threat. But the reality is that there are already millions of people having their lives impacted by it here and now. We’ve just seen a summer of catastrophic wildfires and climate breakdown.

We don’t yet know what the full impact of Sunak’s announcements will be in Scotland. But they are likely to have a profound impact on our road to net zero.

We, as Scottish Greens, will redouble our efforts to secure a renewables-led just transition, changes in how we better heat our buildings, cleaner and more affordable travel, and record investment in nature. These are all vital changes that would be hugely beneficial even if we weren’t facing a climate catastrophe.

Carbon emissions don’t have passports. They don’t recognise borders. All of our fates are interlinked. Pollution in any country has an impact all around the world.

This is a time for climate leadership, locally, nationally and internationally.

The Tories have already tanked our economy with one damaging speech, we cannot let them do the same to our environment.