When it comes to saving our place on the planet, time is of the essence for humans. With Earth Overshoot Day reached on July 29, we recognised a terrible milestone: we had used up our entire quota of the Earth’s biological resources for 2021 with almost half of the year still remaining.

This was a moment of truly sobering clarity and one that Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, is keen to highlight on behalf of Global Footprint Network and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

“If we need reminding that we’re in the grip of a climate and ecological emergency, Earth Overshoot Day is it,” she says.

HeraldScotland: Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City CouncilSusan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council

Although the date was momentarily pushed back last year by the coronavirus pandemic-induced lockdowns, notable new drivers have been a 6.6% carbon footprint increase over past year, as well as a 0.5% decrease in global forest biocapacity due in large part to the spike in Amazon deforestation. In Brazil alone, 1.1 million hectares of forest were lost in 2020 and estimates for 2021 are already pointing to a 43% year-over-year increase in deforestation.

Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom echoes Ms Aitken’s concerns that action is urgently needed, stating: “Following the UN Decade of Ecosystems Restoration launch on World Environment Day on June 5, the new data makes abundantly clear recovery plans in the post COVID-19 era can only be successful in the long term if they embrace regeneration and ecological resource-efficiency.”

In 2021 the carbon footprint of transportation remains lower than pre-pandemic levels. CO2 emissions from domestic air travel and road transport are set to remain 5% below 2019 levels, while international aviation is expected to register 33% below, according the International Energy Agency (IEA).

However, global energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to rebound and grow by 4.8% from last year as the economic recovery ignites demand for fossil fuels. Of particular concern is the fact that global coal use is anticipated to jump in 2021 and is estimated to contribute 40% of the total carbon footprint this year.

As well as a dramatic increases in carbon emissions, there are other factors that are at play. These include population growth, non-sustainable fishing and the fact that about a third of the food produced annually for human consumption – 1.3 billion tonnes – is either lost or wasted.

Thankfully, despite the stark and undeniable evidence of global-sized disaster, direct action can be taken to help mitigate the worst effects of the climate emergency and, longer term, try to redress the imbalances human behaviour has so catastrophically created.

This was certainly true last year when, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit around the world, governments demonstrated they can take swift action, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they decide to put human lives above all else.

What is increasingly apparent is that the perfect storm that’s brewing, as climate change impacts and biological resource security converge, requires the same level – or higher – of alertness and swift action from decision makers.

The swift action being taken in Scotland is recognised by Mathis Wackernagel, Founder and President of Global Footprint Network, the not-for-profit body that partnered with SEPA to promote this year’s event.

HeraldScotland: Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint NetworkMathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network

He praises the fact that, despite a historic dependence on fossil fuel exploitation, Scotland has been a leader in recognising the need to decarbonise, with huge reductions in carbon emissions and an explosive growth in the generation of renewable energy.

“This recognises our future depends on some level of resource security and, in turn, shows an insight that I’m sorry to report is still quite rare. I was astonished at how proactive Scotland has become around these issues.

“It’s also interesting the economic advisers to the Scottish Government view resource as a significant ingredient. They see that they have skin in the game. They are asking: ‘If we don’t do these things, how will we be able to live?’ That is healthy – it’s tackling the question of whether Scotland is destroying Scotland or building Scotland.”

As the clock ticks down to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, SEPA Chief Executive Terry A’Hearn is also keen to focus on positive action and a consensus for action right here, right now.

HeraldScotland: Terry A'Hearn, CEO SEPATerry A'Hearn, CEO SEPA

“As a weary world turns its attention to Scotland and COP26, together we can choose one-planet prosperity over one-planet misery,” he says. “We can and must build from the pandemic – our global ability to plan, to protect and move at pace. Scottish innovation helped lead the Industrial Revolution. In 2021 the Glasgow summit and the future we choose as each community, city, company or country, offers real hope for a new net-zero revolution.”

Much of the environmental degradation we are currently witnessing is taking place in the world’s cities. With up to 80 per cent of the global population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, this presents sustainability strategists with a massive challenge.

One of the most effective solutions is likely to revolve around the creation of smart cities: urban habitats that feature energy-efficient buildings, integrated zoning, compact planning and effective options for people-powered and public transport. The last of these is particularly important as cars account for 17 per cent of the world’s carbon footprint.

The good news is, through their infrastructure and regulatory powers, cities already have significant opportunities to shape their resource efficiency and, with it, their future. Given their risk exposure, aligning their development plans with what resiliency requires in a world shaped by climate change and biological resource constraints, has become cities’ utmost priority – regardless of international agreements.

According to Professor Jaime Toney, director of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Sustainable Solutions, cities are, in fact, ideal living laboratories for social and environmental innovation.

She says: “Cities offer significant learning to create real-world solutions and transformation. And universities have an obligation to act in partnership with their host cities to accelerate progress toward a just and sustainable future. We are working with a people and place-based approach to deliver positive change for a climate-resilient city whose legacy lasts beyond COP26.”


One city that will be the centre of attention in this vision for the future will, of course, be Glasgow. And as the inhabitants of Planet Earth turn their focus to the ‘Dear Green Place’, in search of proactive leadership and effective climate solutions, Councillor Susan Aitken has a timely message: “Let Earth Overshoot Day be our call to arms. We have the opportunity here in Glasgow to show the world what we’re doing, coalescing together as a city to show real change, to respond to the climate and ecological emergency.

“Let’s put our planet first and let’s #MoveTheDate together.”



100 days to make our survival a possibility

100 Days of Possibility is unveiled today, Earth Overshoot Day, by sustainability leaders Global Footprint Network and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). It features proven and scalable solutions that contribute to bringing humanity’s Ecological Footprint in balance with the biological resources that the planet’s natural ecosystems can sustainably regenerate.

With a world still largely unprepared, and growing concerns about recent extreme weather events, representatives of national governments will gather 100 days from now at what has been deemed the last-chance summit for global climate action – the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.


“There is no benefit in waiting to take action, regardless of what transpires at the COP,” Global Footprint Network CEO Laurel Hanscom said. “The pandemic has demonstrated that societies can shift rapidly in the face of disaster. But being caught unprepared brought great economic and human cost. When it comes to our predictable future of climate change and resource constraints, individuals, institutions and governments who prepare themselves will fare better. Global consensus is not a prerequisite to recognising one’s own risk exposure, so let’s take decisive action now, wherever we are,” she added.

Although heralded by many, the green recovery is slow in coming and business-as-usual still prevails, fuelled by short-term political and financial goals. This trajectory invariably leads to unmanageable economic risk, stranding all assets that are incompatible with climate change and increased resource constraints. Sustained prosperity and wellbeing, however, requires ingenuity to address humanity’s most pressing problem: ecological overshoot.

Solutions already exist today to reverse overshoot and support biological regeneration. 100DaysofPossibility.org will reveal opportunities every day up to COP26. Examples that #MoveTheDate include food waste reduction, refrigerants management, short-chain food systems, smart energy, low-carbon cement, municipal Footprint-driven development strategies, and low-impact ecotourism.

“We need three to five times more action to reduce CO2 emissions in view of meeting the Paris Agreement 1.5°C trajectory,” states Olivier Blum, Schneider Electric’s Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer. “To meet this challenge together, the focus must now be on concrete actions with short-term impact, namely the adoption of digital and electric technology and solutions that exist today.”

HeraldScotland: Laurel Hanscom, CEO of Global Footpring NetworkLaurel Hanscom, CEO of Global Footpring Network

Opportunities stem from all sectors of the economy: commercially available technologies or services, local governments’ development strategies, national public policies or best practices supported by civil society initiatives and academia.

“Adopting one-planet prosperity as our true North has transformed the way our regulatory agency interacts with, and supports, our Scottish business community. Beyond enforcing the law, we help them envision what their success will look like in a decarbonised and dematerialized economy and make strategic decisions accordingly,” the SEPA CEO Terry A’Hearn said.


This article is brought to you in association with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).