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September 22, 2017updated 24 Jun 2021 9:25am

San Francisco teams up with Californian cities suing oil companies over climate change

At least five cities in California, including San Francisco and Oakland, are suing major oil companies for their roles in climate change.

The cities of Imperial Beach and the North Californian counties Marin and San Mateo launched similar suits in August.

The cities are claiming that the oil firms, including BP, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, should pay for the infrastructure costs associated with rising sea levels, caused by climate change.

As well, the suits say that the firms knew about the risks of fossil fuel-related climate change but chose to keep quiet about them.

Oakland and San Francisco filed their suits this week. San Francisco has said that the city is going to spend $500m to shore up a three-mile seawall to prevent flooding.

This is what San Francisco’s suit is saying, via Ars Technica:

“Defendants stole a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and sponsored public relations campaigns, either directly through the American Petroleum Institute or other groups, to deny and discredit the mainstream scientific consensus on global warming, downplay the risks of global warming, and even to launch unfounded attacks on the integrity of leading climate scientists.”

The problem with recognising climate change

The US, in particular, has had a problem with believing that climate change is real. The country’s president even tweeted that it was merely a conspiracy made up by the Chinese.


Earlier this year, ExxonMobil finally admitted that the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of climate change.

Exxon said:

“The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants actions. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect.

“ExxonMobil is taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research that leads to technology breakthroughs and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options.”

Unfortunately, Exxon’s former chief executive Rex Tillerson, and current secretary of state, hasn’t managed to persuade president Trump to think the same way. Trump decided to pull the US out of the global Paris Agreement, which united countries in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

In the US, the problems of greenhouse emissions and rising sea levels are probably going to get worse before they get better.

Will there be more climate change suits?

This is a trend we could see continuing for a while. In March this year, a Canadian government department, Policy Horizons Canada, published a paper warning about an influx of court challenges over climate change.

It said that large emitters, from oil and gas companies to governments, could be taken to court over alleged inaction on climate change.

The Star reported that the Vancouver could spend up to 800m Canadian dollars on shoring up its flood defences as a result of climate change.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that cities are turning to litigation as a way to raise money for protection from the causes of climate change.

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