Pope Francis will meet with oil and investment industry executives on June 8th and 9th as part of a larger two-day discussion on climate change at the Vatican.
The meeting, as reported by Axios and Bloomberg, will feature executives from BP, Equinor ASA, Norway’s largest oil company and Exxon Mobil. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who last year issued a letter to shareholders emphasizing his firm’s focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, will also attend.
The Vatican worked with the University of Notre Dame to convene the meeting. According to an emailed statement from University spokesperson Paul Browne, the president of Notre Dame asked the school’s departments to “identify the ways in which they could get on board” with Pope Francis’ Laudato si, or “On Care for our Common Home,” which called for global action to address climate change and environmental degradation. “That resulted in everything from the cessation of coal burning at the university power plant to next week's oil conference in Rome,” he said.
A 'Moral' Choice
The conference will continue the theme set in Pope Francis’s second encyclical, Laudato si. The Pontifex also issued a statement in May that provided ethical guidance for investment professionals and investors, writing that savers should direct their assets “towards those enterprises that operate with clear criteria inspired by an ethics respectful of the entire human person, and of every particular person, within the horizon of social responsibility.”
While Pope Francis is the first leader of the Catholic Church in recent memory to offer such explicit commentary on the global markets, he is not the first. According to Mary Brunson, vice president and co-creator of Investing for Catholics, an investment advisor, “The Vatican has always been a thought leader in these areas in cultural shift that impact our future.”
Both Pope John Paul II, who led the Church until his death in 2005, and Pope Benedict, Francis’ immediate predecessor, weighed in on investors’ responsibilities. In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul wrote that the, “decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice.” And Pope Benedict discussed the vital role that trust plays in the markets in his third and final encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, writing that the “economic sphere […] must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.”
Global Call to Action
Regardless of precedent, the summit comes at a vital time for climate change discussions. Last June, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord, the 2015 agreement in which every country, including the Vatican, agreed to work together to limit the rise in global temperatures. Business and social leaders have responded with renewed emphasis on finding non-regulatory ways to limit emissions, while state and local governments have also voiced support for the agreement.
While the Vatican’s leadership on the issue is welcomed by many, it remains to be seen how much impact the Church can have. Regardless, says Brunson, “The Vatican is taking a leadership role on the issue of human dignity.” “We won’t know the impact of the Pope Francis’ call for action for many decades, but hopefully it will be positive.”