The Mayor's office and other city officials announced a plan to divest money set aside for pension funds from fossil fuel companies, with a goal to remove $5 billion in the next five years. The city accused the fossil fuel industry of being aware of the hidden risks of their business but misleading the public on it for decades.
As Bloomberg notes, the lawsuit in NY hinges on the concepts of "public nuisance" and "private nuisance", well-worn legal concepts that have yet to be applied to a problem as complex as climate change.
The irony here is that much of what we now know about Exxon Mobil, and the company's awareness of how fossil fuel affects climate change, is based on journalism that was funded, in part, by descendants of John D. Rockefeller, the man who founded Standard Oil in 1870.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for the cost that the city would incur to insulate itself from the effects of climate change, which would include a long list of actions, such as upgrading sewer and water infrastructure, coastal defenses, seawalls, and a variety of public health measures.
But it's not just NY taking on the oil industry.
The lawsuit links global warming to extreme temperatures, severe snowfall, risen sea levels, and more flooding across the state. Many areas in New York City are built in low-lying wetlands, including JFK airport.
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This past September, the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz filed lawsuits against five major oil companies, alleging that they bear primary responsibility in causing global climate change.
Chevron also said the lawsuits only serve special interests. The other oil majors intimated similar messages, while also acknowledging that there needs to be some sort of large-scale effort to address climate change, although they were vague on what that actually meant in practice. Under Trump, the federal government has attempted the withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accords, tear up Barack Obama's signature climate policies and open up vast areas of America's land and waters to coal, oil and gas interests. The Guardian reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio has made fighting climate change a priority in his administration as a way to protect the metropolis.
"New York City today becomes a capital of the fight against climate change on this planet", said Bill McKibben, co-founder of climate group 350.org.
Oil companies promised to fight the issue vigorously in courts.
Christiana Figueres, former United Nations climate chief and architect of the Paris climate agreement, added: "The exponential transition toward a fossil-fuel-free economy is unstoppable and local governments have a critical role to play".
"It's therefore extremely encouraging to see NYC step up today to safeguard their city and exercise their role as investors to protect their beneficiaries from climate-risk".