NYC to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel companies
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January 23, 2018
NYC to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel companies

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City (NYC) announced that the City would be the first in the nation to divest funds from fossil fuel companies. The mayor also revealed that the City had filed a lawsuit in federal court against the five largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies as measured by their contributions to global warming.

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“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. “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.”

New York's lawsuit follows similar litigation initiated by three California cities: San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Cruz.

According to de Blasio, he and City Comptroller Scott Stringer will submit a joint resolution to pension fund trustees to begin analyzing ways to divest from fossil fuel owners in a responsible way that is fully consistent with the City’s fiduciary obligations. In total, the City’s five pension funds hold roughly $5 billion in the securities of over 190 fossil fuel companies.

“The City’s move is among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date,” stated the mayor’s office.

Stringer said divestment would not occur immediately.

“It's complex,” said Stringer. “It really hasn't been done on this level before, and we are going to work and report back to people in the city who care about this. We are examining the goal of divestment within a five year timeline. We will engage consultants. We will discuss this with the trustees, and we will develop a plan.”

The Sandy factor

In an address to the news media, de Blasio made a direct link between climate change and Superstorm Sandy, the 2012 hurricane that ravaged the East Coast and many coastal areas in the City.

“If you lived through those days in New York City, you knew that something fundamental had changed, that we could never see climate change as an abstraction,” said de Blasio. “If there was [sic] any deniers in New York City before Sandy, I don't think there were any deniers after Sandy because it was abundantly clear what climate change was doing to this city—one of the great coastal cities of the world.”

Sandy took 44 lives in New York City and caused $19 billion in damage in a matter of hours.

‘Deception and denial’

Regarding the lawsuit, the City claims that recently uncovered documents make it clear that the fossil fuel industry was well aware, as far back as at least the 1980s, of the effects that burning fossil fuels would have on the planet’s atmosphere and the expected impacts on the climate.

“Nonetheless, they deliberately engaged in a campaign of deception and denial about global warming and its impacts, even while profiting from the sale of fossil fuels and protecting their own assets from the effects of rising seas and a changing climate,” the City states. “More than half the greenhouse gas pollution from the fossil fuel industry has occurred since 1988, according to a recent analysis. Sea levels have risen about one foot since 1900 with much of that rise due to climate change, the most powerful storms are becoming more frequent, and flooding is becoming more frequent and intense.” 

The suit targets BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. The City says it will be seeking damages for the billions of dollars it is spending and will spend to protect New Yorkers from the effects of climate change.

A transcript of the mayor’s press conference announcing the actions is here.

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