Emeritus Mendoza Professor shares road to Vatican Energy Summit with sustainability students

Author: Rachel Novick

Jenkins At VaticanFr. John Jenkins (l), Carolyn Woo, and Leo Burke at the Vatican

Leo Burke ‘70, Emeritus Professor of Executive Education at Mendoza College of Business, was an eagerly anticipated guest speaker in this semester’s senior seminar for sustainability minors. Leo’s efforts over the last few years to address climate change resulted in what many would consider a miracle this past June: executives from most of the world’s publicly traded oil and gas companies along with major investment firms signed statements of support for carbon pricing and disclosures on climate change risk.

Leo spoke with the students by video conference from Rome, where he was meeting with Vatican officials who had hosted the June meeting and were discussing next steps in what is known as the “Energy Transition Dialogues”.

The vision for the Dialogues began at a conference Leo organized at Notre Dame in 2015 called Carbon Investing: Transition to a Low Carbon World. Participants focused on the problem of stranded assets and the difficulty of writing off known reserves given the inevitable impact on stock prices. “No one company can stick their neck out and make the first step,” explained Leo. “So they all need to be in the same room and reach a consensus.”

His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., were both co-sponsors of the dialogue, which took place June 12-14. 

Pope Francis addressed the summit and participated in a rare Q&A with participants. Dr. Carolyn Woo, former dean of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, worked with Leo for months in advance of the summit, both of them meeting with corporate leaders on multiple continents to ensure their participation.

“I found Prof. Burke’s work inspiring because he was not daunted by high stakes and not fazed by challenges,” said Whitney Lim ‘20 after Leo’s presentation. “He admirably used his connections through Notre Dame and his personal network to enable a conference that brought together the most powerful people in the energy and investment sectors, although he was humble in sharing that with us. I am excited to see where Prof. Burke’s hard work brings us in the coming years!”

Originally published by Rachel Novick at sustainabilitystudies.nd.edu on December 05, 2019.