By Terry A’Hearn
Chief Executive, Scottish Environment Protection Agency

In planetary terms, today is time up for earth. Monday, 29 July 2019 is Earth Overshoot Day – when humanity will have used nature’s resource budget for the entire year.

This year, Earth Overshoot Day is its earliest ever. Over the past 20 years, it has moved up two months. This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate, equivalent to 1.75 Earths.

According to Global Footprint Network, the international sustainability organisation behind Earth Overshoot Day and ecological footprinting, we now have a choice: between one-planet misery or one-planet prosperity.

Since joining the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as Chief Executive in 2015, I’ve put one planet living at the heart of our regulatory strategy, which we call One Planet Prosperity.

Read more: Climate crisis ‘raises risk’ of more intense heatwaves

The scale of environmental challenge facing humanity is enormous, with a real urgency to act.  On 28th April 2019, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency.  The announcement built on Scotland’s globally ambitious climate strategy, leadership and innovation and locked-in the response to future built on sustainable and inclusive growth.


As an Australian, and having been and environment professional for thirty years in four nations, I’ve heard lots of speeches and read a lot of strategies on sustainability.  There’s something distinctly different about Scotland.  It’s a nation serious about environmental, economic and social success – on a global scale and in communities across Scotland.

As a regulator, SEPA too is changing today, fit for the challenges of tomorrow. We recognise that the challenges are too great for any one organisation or company to tackle alone.  Working together, we’ll achieve so much more.

On Friday I joined ten other public, private, voluntary and community sector organisations in Fife to sign a SEPA led ‘Sustainable Growth Agreement’ on a fresh type of local partnership with an ambitious regeneration vision for communities around the River Leven in Fife.

This is a Scottish first and locks in sustainable, inclusive growth to the Leven Partnership Project, which aims to revitalise the River Leven in Fife as a great regional asset by 2030.

Read more: How is Scotland doing on its climate change promises?

Partners including Scottish Enterprise, Diageo, Fife Council, Sustrans, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Water, Fife College and will be working in partnership with SEPA to achieve shared outcomes across the River Leven catchment.

Working in new ways, with new partners, innovating for environmental and economic opportunity, is critical to this greatest challenge of our time.  Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership Fellow and Former CEO Greenpeace International, Paul Gilding, who spoke at the event said “with Scotland’s globally ambitious climate strategy, leadership and innovation in response to the climate emergency, its great to see progressive partners such as SEPA and others work together in new ways to transform communities for the people who live and work there.”

Scotland is a small nation with huge potential to tackle the greatest issue of our time and to win for our environment, our economy and communities – communities like Level and across the globe.  Scotland can do this.  Scotland is now.