This letter has been written as part of the Financial Times’ ‘Letters to the New World’ brand campaign, which calls on those in our global community to inspire each other around what this new world should and could look like

When the pandemic finally ends, almost nothing will be craved more than a return to normality. Yet the relentless physics of climate change mean a complete return to life as it was would be devastating.

Too much of the way we travelled, worked, ate and lived was powered by fossil fuels and other activities that have raised greenhouse gas concentrations to levels not seen in millions of years. The scorching heatwaves, deadly floods and violent storms that climate scientists warned of years ago now ravage lives around the world with unnerving regularity.

There is no mystery about what needs to be done.

Carbon emissions must nearly halve by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to have a good chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C, said a 2018 UN science report that has permanently reshaped the climate discourse.

This means fossil fuel use must be curbed fast, starting with the dirtiest form of it: coal. The death notice for untrammelled oil and gas use also looms. Countries with the means to switch to cleaner energy must help those that lack it. More broadly, the burden of ending emissions cannot fall on those least able to bear it.

The virus delivered a brutal lesson in the perils of ignoring obvious risks and it may be no accident that the public’s appetite for climate action appears to have grown during the pandemic.

Governments, companies and investors should seize on this.

Today’s leaders were sorely let down by their predecessors. They must not do the same to those who follow them.

Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift as new species and ecosystems evolve, but as a draft of the next big UN climate report bluntly states: “humans cannot”.

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