June 24, 2024

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Five oil majors are accused of downplaying the risks posed by fossil fuels since the 1950s, The New York Times reports.

The US state of California has sued five oil giants for their alleged role in downplaying the risk posed by fossil fuels while causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, The New York Times has reported.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in the superior court of San Francisco, targeted Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron.

It is the most significant lawsuit to put the spotlight on the fossil fuel industry and demand the creation of a fund to compensate for future damages caused by climate-related disasters.

It follows numerous other cases brought by US cities, counties and states against fossil fuel interests over the impact of climate change, as well as alleged disinformation campaigns spanning decades.

California’s attorney general Rob Bonta, who is leading the case, claimed in the document the oil giants intentionally downplayed the risks posed by fossil fuels to the public since the 1950s – despite knowing their products were likely to lead to significant global warming.

“Oil and gas company executives have known for decades that reliance on fossil fuels would cause these catastrophic results, but they suppressed that information from the public and policymakers by actively pushing out disinformation on the topic,” read the 135-page complaint, as reported by the Times.

“Their deception caused a delayed societal response to global warming. And their misconduct has resulted in tremendous costs to people, property, and natural resources, which continue to unfold each day.”

‘Shameful’

Since the current wave of environmental litigation against fossil fuel firms began in 2017, the industry has sought to avoid state trials on procedural grounds.

That effort received a major blow in May when the US Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal in two cases, meaning they could proceed.

The legal complaint highlights the destruction unfolding in California from climate change, including record heat, wildfires and drought.

“These folks had this information and lied to us, and we could have staved off some of the most significant consequences,” California Governor Gavin Newsom was quoted as saying. “It’s shameful. It’s sickens you to your core.”

The lawsuits are modelled on successful cases against Big Tobacco as well as against the pharmaceutical industry over the proliferation of opioids.

In his lawsuit, Bonta is not seeking compensation for damages related to a specific event, but rather to create a fund that would be used to pay for recovery from extreme weather events and mitigation and adaptation efforts across the state, the news report said.

No response by the oil majors to the California lawsuit was immediately available.

Oil companies have said in response to other lawsuits that policies to address climate change should come from the federal executive branch and Congress, not via a patchwork of decisions in court cases across the United States.

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