California takes on big oil giants for climate justice

California has initiated a groundbreaking climate lawsuit against major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron, along with the American Petroleum Institute. Filed in San Francisco’s superior court, this lawsuit alleges that these companies have caused extensive damage amounting to tens of billions of dollars and deliberately deceived the public by minimising the risks associated with fossil fuels.

It seeks the establishment of an abatement fund to finance future climate-related damages in the state. This legal action becomes one of the most significant challenges the fossil fuel industry faces in relation to climate change.

The significance of California’s lawsuit lies in its status as the most populous state and a substantial oil and gas producer, setting the stage for smaller states to follow its lead.

Furthermore, California is particularly vulnerable to climate-change-induced extreme weather events, experiencing wildfires, floods, sea-level rise, heatwaves, and even tropical storms. Richard Wiles, the president of the Centre for Climate Integrity, labels California’s case as the most influential climate action ever taken against the oil and gas sector in the United States.

The lawsuit accuses these oil companies of a decades-long campaign to downplay the hazards of fossil fuels while being fully aware of their role in global warming since the 1950s. It contends that the companies have consistently misled the public about their commitment to reducing emissions, despite their substantial profits from fossil fuel production.

Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips have yet to respond to the lawsuit. In contrast, the American Petroleum Institute characterises the legal actions as meritless, politicised distractions, emphasising that climate policy should be determined by Congress, not the court system.

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