It has been just over one year since the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic. A year described by many as the lost year. A year like no other.
Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland compares the virus to a magnifying glass that has illuminated and distorted our existing society, "shining light on deprivation, inequalities and political unrest while reminding us of the power and beauty of nature and humanity".
Without doubt, the human and economic cost of Covid-19 is severe. It threatens to scale back many years of progress on reducing poverty and inequality and to further weaken social cohesion and international co-operation.
Yet, we were warned.
In 2006, the authoritative Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum sounded the alarm on pandemics and other health-related risks. The report said that a "lethal flu, its spread facilitated by global travel patterns and uncontained by insufficient warning mechanisms, would present an acute threat". It warned us against "severe impairment of travel, tourism and other service industries, as well as manufacturing and retail supply chains" while global trade could be impacted by longer-term damages.
We have also been warned about the non-reversal catastrophic consequences of climate change.
At a discussion held in late February by the foreign policy think tank Diplosphere, Professor Tim Naish from the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University said Covid-19 has had a massive global impact but climate crisis is still the "biggest existential threat to humanity and life on earth". The World Economic Forum lists climate change and extreme weather, and human environmental damage as the top three risks to the global economy.
The best-case scenario for our planet is 1-2 degree warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. But to get to 1-2 degrees (only) of warming, we need to do a lot of work.
We may laugh off planetary-level climate engineering (geo-engineering) at present, but before long policymakers may need to decide on radical ideas such as sunlight reflection through giant mirrors in space or artificially reflective clouds, as noted by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton.
Our best-case scenario is based on a linear model of climate change, that is, increases in climate inputs like greenhouse gas levels cause proportional warming of the climate.
However, there are tipping points built into our climate system, catastrophic events that warming could unlock: release of gas trapped in the tundra, catastrophic and irreversible loss of Antarctic ice sheets causing sea level rise, retreat of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush, and other events which could have a compound effect on global warming.
We just don't know yet when these inflection points will be reached. We would literally be playing with fire to ignore the signals in front of us and carry on as usual - where warming of 2-3 degrees by the century's end, is the estimate. If that happened, the outcome would be apocalyptic.
There is, nevertheless, hope. The public discourse on climate change has changed immeasurably. Ten years ago, scientists were called out as crackpots when they sounded the warning bell. Today, public discourse has switched in their favour. Humanity can act quickly for the common good; as last year showed us, Covid-19 vaccines were developed in record time. This was a victory for science and the result of unprecedented global co-operation by scientists sharing data and funding.
We have no excuse now not to apply the same urgency to how we look after the climate and wellbeing of our planet, and reimagine the future. Yet we remain surprisingly complacent. As Simon Upton noted, referring to a New York Times article by Kyle Harper, the 2nd century Antonine plague that hit Rome at its most globalised apex was not incidental. Rome was exposed to pathogen risk as a direct consequence of its technologic prowess, scale, trade routes and globalisation.
We remain ecologically fragile.
To tackle this mother of all challenges, global concerted action is needed - our public goods, our institutions, need to be resilient to political winds of change, and remain true to the task at hand.
The delayed UN Climate Change Conference COP26 hosted by the UK in November 2021 will be a pivotal moment to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It will be an opportunity to commit to more ambitious national targets and agree on rules for carbon trading that can accelerate investments in the transition to a low-carbon global economy.
The action we take over the next 10 years will determine the future of humanity for the next 10,000 years.
The celebrant, actor and author Pinky Agnew said "our world shrunk into our bubbles, and I hope we create a new normal, a kinder, gentler, more loving normal that embraces not just our nearest and dearest, but our ultimate bubble, the planet we live on. We can, we must love the world".
No one is immune to climate change. We have the opportunity to rebuild a resilient global community right now.
• Political scientist and international relations expert Maty Nikkhou-O'Brien is the founder and executive director of Diplosphere and a former executive director of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.