WASHINGTON (January 10, 2018)—New York City is suing five oil and gas giants, joining several cities and counties in California seeking to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their contributions to climate change. The suit alleges that ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips bear responsibility for the costs of climate damages due to their outsized contributions to global warming emissions and decades of sowing doubt about the risks of their products. The city would use the money recovered through its lawsuit to upgrade its infrastructure to protect residents from rising seas and other climate impacts.
“The era of fossil fuel industry profiteering from climate deception with impunity is finally ending,” said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy and chief climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “For decades, fossil fuel companies have spent millions to deceive the public about the harms of their products and block policies that could have limited the impacts that communities in New York City, California and across the world are facing.”
Sea level rise increased Hurricane Sandy’s flood damages to property in New York City by $2 billion, more than $230 per New Yorker, according to one study. Meanwhile, New York City officials have already estimated it will cost more than $19 billion to adapt to climate change.
“The costs to address climate damages and prepare for future impacts are enormous and growing,” said Frumhoff. “Taxpayers and impacted communities are right to demand that major fossil fuel companies, which have knowingly made the situation worse, pay their fair share. The field of climate attribution science is rapidly advancing and we now know, for example, that emissions traced to the companies named in the city’s suit have contributed more than eight percent of global sea level rise and over nine percent of global temperature rise. With adaptation costs in the hundreds of billions, companies may be on the line for significant and material sums. The courts now have an important role to play in determining how companies should pay their fair share for the harm their products have caused.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced that the city’s pension funds divest $5 billion in fossil fuel investments. According to Frumhoff, this move is a recognition of the enormous risks associated with the fossil fuel investments and shows the city is taking a strong ethical stand.
For more information about the threat of chronic inundation to New York City, see this recent UCS study.
For more information about how scientists and the courts are developing ways to hold fossil fuel producers accountable for climate change, see UCS President Ken Kimmell’s blog.