Tuesday's announcement that BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, will make climate change a major focus of its investment considerations underscores how strongly market forces are pushing in the direction of sustainability.

"Because sustainable investment options have the potential to offer clients better outcomes," BlackRock's Global Executive Committee says in its annual letter to clients, "we are making sustainability integral to the way BlackRock manages risk, constructs portfolios, designs products, and engages with companies. We believe that sustainability should be our new standard for investing." (The boldface text is in the original.)

"The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance," says Larry Fink, BlackRock's chairman and CEO, in his annual letter to CEOs.

"Our investment conviction is that sustainability- and climate-integrated portfolios can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors."

Fink is a Democrat, but he insisted that the motivation was strictly business. "We are fiduciaries," he told the New York Times. "Politics isn't part of this."

Indeed, climate change is altering the risk assessments for all kinds of investments, from physical assets like buildings and land to companies involved in such industries as tourism and outdoor recreation. As we've noted in previous blog posts, banks and other financial institutions are now calculating the carbon risks of the assets on their balance sheets, and corporate America has embarked on a bottom line-based embrace of renewable energy.

In his CEO letter, Fink mentions various economic challenges he's witnessed: the inflation of the 1970s and early ’80s, the 1997 Asian currency crisis, the dot-com bubble, and the global financial crisis that struck a little more than a decade ago.

"Even when these episodes lasted for many years," he says, "they were all, in the broad scheme of things, short-term in nature. Climate change is different. Even if only a fraction of the projected impacts is realized, this is a much more structural, long-term crisis. Companies, investors, and governments must prepare for a significant reallocation of capital."

Again, the boldface text—and the sense of urgency—are in the original.