Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer and other trustees of New York City's $189 billion pension funds on Wednesday announced a goal to divest city funds from fossil fuels within five years.
"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 City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The city will seek damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell for the billions of dollars the city will spend to offset the effects of climate change, including future expenses.
NY was badly rattled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and faces costs escalating into the tens of billions of dollars in order to protect low-lying areas such as lower Manhattan and the area around JFK airport from being inundated by further severe storms fueled by rising sea levels and atmospheric warming.
The city's largest pension funds - New York City Employees' Retirement System and the Teachers' Retirement System - are on board to try to divest by 2022, said Daniel Zarrilli, de Blasio's senior director of climate policy and programs. The mayor said oil companies intentionally misled the public about the links between their industry and climate change to protect their bottom lines.
"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions", said Exxon Mobil's Scott Silvestri.
"They are the central actors, they are the first ones responsible for this crisis, and they should not get away with it anymore", Mr de Blasio said in the press conference announcing the lawsuit.
New York City is seeking billions of dollars in damages that will be used to fortify the city against extreme weather, rising seas, and future major storms such as 2012's devastating Hurricane Sandy. Shell's spokesman echoed that sentiment.
New York's lawsuit echoes a similar effort on the west coast, where two California counties and a city are suing 37 fossil fuel companies for knowingly emitting unsafe levels of greenhouse gases. The cities of San Francisco and Oakland and the city and county of Santa Cruz have also filed suit this year. "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 NY safer and more resilient", said Mayor de Blasio.
"We are going after those who have profited", the mayor said. If the opinions support the move, they'll vote on proceeding with divestment.
In total, the city's five pension funds hold roughly $5 billion in the securities of more than 190 fossil fuel companies. More than half of the greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels has occurred since 1988.
New York City is not the first in the United States to launch legal action against oil majors. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, notable for its links to the past oil wealth of John D Rockefeller, has also sought to divest.
"ExxonMobil welcomes any well-meaning and good faith attempt to address the risks of climate change". Naomi Klein, a director of environmentalist group 350.org said that it represents a "collective victory for the incredible climate justice movement".