Every summer I spend a couple of weeks in a family house in the Italian countryside. My father bought it just a few months before I was born, so keeping count is straightforward: I’ve been going back for 40 years, and this past summer was no exception.

It’s one of those places where time stands still — the same faces, same food and same landscape, year in, year out. It’s just an illusion, but it never fails to lure me in for those lazy summer days.

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This year felt different, though. On my second day, an olive grove adjacent to our property caught fire, after weeks of the scorching hot, dry weather. Suddenly, I recalled the wildfires I had seen on TV just a couple of hours earlier — I feared the worst. Although we managed to put the fire out quite rapidly, its flames reached far beyond the olive grove. They reduced to ashes that illusion of timelessness that enveloped the place.

Even in the picturesque Italian countryside, everything is in flux, and climate change is the most overwhelming change of our time. It’s already on our doorsteps. By now, the whole world has woken up to this uncomfortable truth, and is acting on it — or at least pledging to act on it.

But die-hard environmentalists are raising their eyebrows. With her typical eloquence, Greta Thunberg has labelled these pledges as “bla, bla, bla”. In principle, she has a point: the development model of the global economy is intrinsically unsustainable, and net-zero plans risk falling short. In practice, things may pan out differently this time, because sustainable assets are paying off and the investors that were slow to adjust have missed out badly.

The energy sector — the main culprit of global greenhouse gas emissions — is a case in point.

Take the Government Pension Fund of Norway, the world's largest sovereign wealth fund for assets under management: its portfolio would have been 10% larger today if it had fully divested from oil and gas stocks in 2017 and reinvested the money into renewables. Or European power companies: the more they delay decarbonisation plans, the more they struggle to access financing for the energy transition plans that will inevitably make or break their businesses in the foreseeable future.

Even international oil companies are divesting big chunks of their fossil assets despite fast-soaring oil and gas prices. Just a few years ago, they would have done the opposite. ​​

I get where Greta is coming from. For years, climate change felt inevitable, with too much talk and too little action. Today, however, change is possible; alternative, clean technologies are widely available. More importantly, from a business standpoint at least, they are even profitable. Their uptake is accelerating across the board. Think of green power generation and electric vehicles: policies and market incentives are finally aligning. Perceptions, too, as the climate crisis grows and trespasses each one’s personal sphere. 

Ultimately, sustainability has always been about survival. As humans, we have adjusted and survived through the millennia. This time is no different. 

This article first appeared in the October/November print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.