Over the past three to four years we’ve seen extreme weather events happening more frequently and more intensely in a growing number of countries. That is one reason why people have woken up to the very real threat of climate change.

Climate change only comes fifth in the list of the top 10 trends facing the world this year. That’s not due to climate scepticism, which is now less pervasive than it used to be. It is fifth because the consequences of insufficient action are still underestimated. If we understood them properly, climate change would top the list. Because the fact is that if we don’t take action in a timely fashion, at the scale that we need, our climate has the potential to wipe out all the progress we have made over the past 20 years in economic development, social development, in environmental protection. It is the major ‘wipe out’ factor.

I think that’s why people all around the world aren’t happy with the lack of attention given to climate change. The Survey on the Global Agenda showed that satisfaction levels for this challenge are by far the lowest of all the challenges, but we shouldn’t mistake that dissatisfaction for genuine inaction.

There is action, and it’s moving in the right direction, but it’s not moving fast enough. For example, we have $1 trillion of cumulative investment in renewable energy. That’s good news, but it’s not enough. We need $1 trillion per year. There’s action nationally, internationally and on the ground, but it is not enough, and that’s why there is the perception of inaction.

Our changing climate is the most pressing challenge we face, but it’s also the most compelling opportunity we’ve ever had. Because there is no response to climate change that doesn’t take us into a very exciting future. To slow deforestation has several co-benefits environmentally, socially and economically; to accelerate the introduction of renewable energies into the energy matrix isn’t just positive action on climate change, it also transports us into the cutting-edge future of a low-carbon economy.

Addressing climate change is daunting in its complexity. There’s no human endeavour that is not in some way linked to the challenge. We are facing a complete transformation of our economy, but we have changed our economies before – look at the industrial revolution, or the rise of the digital age. It’s all doable. We have the technology, we have the finance, we have the wherewithal – but we cannot allow ourselves to become paralysed, because we do not have the option to ignore the problem.

It doesn’t help that you can’t point to any single economy that has already succeeded. There are economies like Germany, which has made a serious commitment to the transformation of energy, and economies like tiny Costa Rica, the country I come from, which has announced its intention to become carbon neutral. But these are isolated examples of transformation and we need to move from isolated examples to making this the norm.

But wherever you are in the world, policy can’t wait for transformative action, and action can’t wait for policy perfection. It is completely unacceptable for those who have the power to effect change to stay in a “you first” stance. Policy and action must progress hand-in-hand, learning from each other. We have to bring these two factors together.

It’s clear this is not just a government responsibility, a business opportunity or an academic exercise – this is something in which no single human being is exempt from responsibility. This is not just an environmental challenge and it’s not a future challenge; it is a transformational challenge that we must embrace today, not tomorrow.

This is an extract from the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014, published this week.

Read a blog on the top 10 trends facing the world in 2014.

Author: Christiana Figueres is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Bonn, and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Climate Change.

Image: A drop falls from a melting piece of ice on Argentina’s Perito Morento glacier REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci.