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New York City files suit to hold fossil fuel companies responsible for climate change damage

The announcement marks "a watershed in corporate accountability for climate change" taking the necessary steps to purge funds from the fossil fuel industry.

Image Credit: Pixabay
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A “watershed” moment occurred on Wednesday when New York City announce that not only would the city divest its pension funds from fossil fuels within five years, but also that it had filed a suit against five fossil fuel giants for their role in the climate change crisis.

New York has files a suit to recover billions of dollars in damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell – five of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world – for their role in creating and perpetuating climate change.

The city wants to hold companies accountable for putting “profit over the public welfare,” according to a press statement by NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter. “Internal industry documents demonstrate that the defendants engaged in large-scale, sophisticated public relations campaigns to portray fossil fuels as environmentally responsible and essential to human well-being — even as their own scientists warned them that continued fossil fuel production would contribute.”

“This is a first-in-the-nation step to protect our future and our planet—for this generation and the next,” said Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

Stringer and Mayor Bill de Blasio “will submit a joint resolution to pension fund trustees” to being the necessary steps to purge funds from the fossil fuel industry.

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Of the city’s $189 billion in pension funds assets, $5 are held in the securities of over 190 fossil fuel companies.

Climate activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of, said this was “one of the biggest days in 30 years of the climate fight.” He added, “New York City today becomes a capital of the fight against climate change on this planet.”

“The signal is clear,” McKibben said an op-ed. “The oil industry is not the future, it’s the past. And indeed it will be held responsible for what it’s done in the past: namely, push climate denial when it knew the truth.”

“We’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits,” said de Blasio in a statement. “As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”

The announcements marked “a watershed in corporate accountability for climate change and a wake-up call to investors that the risks facing fossil fuel companies are real, material, and rapidly growing,” says Carroll Muffett, president of Center for International Environmental Law.

New York City has also starting on $20 billion in infrastructure updates to protect residents from the consequences of climate change, such as. Rising sea levels and powerful storms. Hurricane Sandy caused $19 billion worth of damage to the city when it hit in 2012.

The city joins several California cities and counties that have filed similar lawsuits against major fossil fuel companies. Last July, San Mateo, Marin County and the city of Imperial Beach filed lawsuits against 37 coal, oil, and gas companies. Then, in September, San Francisco and Oakland files their own lawsuits against five major fossils fuels companies. These lawsuits represent the growing trend of cities calling for fossil fuel companies to be held accountable for their role in perpetuating climate change. The lawsuits specifically argue that fossil fuel companies had a major impact on the production and emission of climate-changing greenhouse gases and that they knowingly obscured climate science that might have prompted reductions in the use of fossil fuels and emissions.

Many activists are comparing the wave of lawsuits to those that took place in the 1990s against the tobacco industry, which resulted in a multi-state coalition that brought about a $365.5 billion settlement in which the tobacco industry agreed to pay into a fund to offset health-related tobacco costs.

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