By Colin Cardwell

THE state of lockdown imposed after the onset of the Covid-19 taught us a salutary lesson: we can rise to meet the challenge of a crisis and adapt rapidly.

And, while change on this scale is never easy, doing nothing is clearly not an option.

On Thursday, The Herald, in conjunction with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and the California-based Global Footprint Network, convened a virtual event to confront the environmental shift that must be undertaken as part of its Earth Overshoot Day 2020 campaign.

Choosing Our Future By Design Not Disaster attracted 500 delegates from some 100 organisations in locations that included Albania, Brazil, France and the Philippines, as well as cities in America, ranging from Honolulu and Houston to Chicago and Washington DC.

Moderated by Donald Martin, the Herald’s editor-in-chief, and featuring expert speakers, it was a chance for delegates to explore the opportunities for accelerating practical action to lock in sustainable, inclusive growth before the world’s leaders arrive in Glasgow for the COP26 global climate summit in 2021.

Keynote speaker Dr Marie Macklin CBE, executive chairwoman and founder of the HALO Urban Regeneration Company and Macklin Enterprise Partnerships, said being known as a disruptor was a badge of honour.

“As much as politics and policy make change, it’s people who implement that change and move the direction of plcs across the global economy,” she said.

“The biggest economic asset we have is the untapped social capital of the local communities, which have a huge beating heart. And young people were at the heart of HALO’s drive toward sustainable cities, towns and smaller communities in Scotland adopting the mantra of “Live, Work, Learn, Play.”

Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network, who joined the debate from California, endorsed Dr Macklin’s emphasis that we can choose the future we want.

He added: “Between last January and this month humanity has used as much of Earth’s resources as it can renew in a whole year – the equivalent of using 1.6 Earths when we only have one.

“We want to live well on this planet and that’s why, working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency we are promoting one planet prosperity.

“The alternative is one planet misery, which is not such a great alternative.”

Sepa’s chief executive Terry A’Hearn agreed, saying: “If you were to tell a business that every year its costs are 1.6 over revenue it would have to fundamentally change.

“We as a regulator plus every citizen, every business, school, hospital and so on has to change to rise to this challenge and create a different sort of prosperity.”

He stressed that if business wants to do the right thing, then regulations should be made simple.

However, he added: “If a business wants the wrong thing, we should make regulation painful and unpleasant and costly. It’s about giving business what its performance deserves.”

Professor Jaime Toney, co-founder of the Centre for Sustainable Solutions at the University of Glasgow, highlighted that, in the lead up to COP26, universities and academics must reflect on their role in the sustainability agenda.

“Universities are well placed to influence this through education, research and partnership. They can create a climate and carbon literate generation of students who will carry the legacy forward for us to successfully navigate the next five to 10 years.”

It is the prerogative of today’s young leaders to make tomorrow’s agenda today’s agenda, said Catriona Patterson, board member of the 2050 Climate Group.

“Young people have skin in the game; they are good at challenging assumptions and asking: ‘why not?’ – particularly when they’ve seen a lack of action on climate change, despite having been taught about it throughout their whole primary and secondary education.”

She added: “To those who ask if young people have anything to offer if they don’t have practical experience, I would say that they have passion ambition and are alive to action. The 2050 Climate Group works with people aged between 18 and 35 who are often already contributing to their professional lives and political society and come from a wide range of sectors.”

Dr Macklin concurred, saying: “Young people are at the heart of our proposal and it’s our young people who will make the vital changes in Scotland’s and the world’s economy.”

Returning to the need for disruption – and disruptors – Terry A’Hearn concluded: “There’s not a choice – we have to be disruptive but it’s the question of what’s the right sort of disruption. As a regulator we will roll up our sleeves and help whether it’s a business or local community, local authority or NGO to do things very differently and to be disruptive.”

Meanwhile, the chat room was humming with lively comments such as “when communities are educated loud and clear about the consequences of climate crisis, more will be motivated to do the right thing” and “sustainability needs to feature in every aspect of the education system, not just courses within the title”.

The challenge of rolling out low carbon heating solutions when gas is so cheap was also addressed.

The answer to one of the event’s online polls summarised popular opinion.

Respondents were asked whether the world was moving fast enough to challenge global climate change. Nine per cent said Yes and 91% said No. There’s clearly still much to accomplish but Thursday proved that the momentum is growing.