New York City has filed a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A ), BP ( BP ), Chevron ( CVX ), ConocoPhillips ( COP ) and ExxonMobil ( XOM ) over their impact on global warming. In 2012 New York's streets and subways flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and rising sea levels have strained ocean infrastructure around the city.
"We're going after those who have profited - and what a awful, disgusting way to profit - in a way that's put so many people's lives in danger". If more and more localities sue, "we might be able to see adequate pressure applied to these companies to inspire action on climate change", he said.
The city argues that the five companies are responsible for a significant fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, and that the oil industry overall misled the public about the risks of climate change. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 ruled 8-0 against a suit by a group of states and New York City that used federal public nuisance law to target companies operating fossil-fuel-burning power plants.
Conoco and BP declined to comment.
"We are committed to participating in serious attempts to address climate change and to being part of the solution".
The Big Apple is the biggest city to take this legal action but not the first. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland and the city and county of Santa Cruz have also filed suit this year.
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"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue that requires global engagement", Chevron said in a statement. Financial Times wrote that pension funds have begun withdrawing from fossil fuel companies "over concerns about their impact on climate change and fears" that they could lose value if governments enact stricter climate-change rules and regulations.
While the New York City retirement systems remains grossly underfunded, the city comptroller continues to devote a disproportionate amount of official resources toward undermining numerous funds' own portfolio companies through the near-constant filing of various shareholder proposals. Invoking the imperative of climate justice, she noted that "the costs of sea level rise and ferocious and unprecedented weather events are being offloaded onto the public with taxpayers stiffed with the ever ballooning costs", leaving less money for social needs, while "the extravagant profits from destabilizing our planet's life support system are systematically privatized...."
In what the comptroller's office is calling a "first-in-the-nation" step towards the five-year divestment goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer will submit a joint resolution to pension fund trustees. New York City has spent billions to fix the damage.
Such David versus Goliath bravery becomes easier now that an entity as rich and powerful as New York City has joined the fight.
"Frontline communities of color and the Global South are disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of climate change have long advocated for divestment commitments that reduce our complicity with terracide".
The peak body for the fossil fuel industry, American Petroleum Institute, also hit out at the plans.
The press office for New York's city hall did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.