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Talking with the pope

CalPERS director gets seat at Vatican meeting on climate change

Pope Francis met with oil company executives about climate change.

When Pope Francis gathered leading oil company executives in early June to talk about how they can help address climate change, Anne Simpson, director of corporate governance at CalPERS, also was in the room, said Priya Mathur, president of CalPERS' board, at its June 20 meeting.

The Vatican meeting was co-sponsored by Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

"It's not every day that an organization gets invited to a meeting of this caliber," Ms. Mathur said.

The pope has called climate change "a global problem with grave implications." The issue also is high on the radar of the $356.5 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, Sacramento, which is pressing companies in which it invests to establish a carbon-reduction target consistent with the Paris Pledge for Action and has submitted proxy resolutions urging companies to report how a 2-degree temperature increase would impact their business.

Among its actions, in 2017 alone, CalPERS called on fellow shareholders of Exxon Mobil Corp., PPL Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. to vote for a non-binding proxy ballot resolution requiring the global oil and gas company to report on environmental risks and opportunities associated with climate change. The proxy resolution passed.

In 2015, CalPERS signed the Paris Pledge for Action. CalPERS is also a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment, a U.N.-backed initiative focusing on environmental, social and governance practices; a member of Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental organizations and other groups working to address sustainability issues; and a member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a network of more than 100 asset owners promoting corporate governance practices on climate change. The U.S. exited the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2017. CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost issued a statement afterward reaffirming CalPERS commitment to the pledge.

"I believe it's the commitment and dedication of this board and our investment team in the area of sustainable investments that gave us a seat at this table," Ms. Mathur told the board.