Fossil Fuels

Holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their contribution to climate change: Where does the law stand?

by Michael Burger & Jessica Wentz, 24 Oct 2018.

In the past year, state and local governments across the United States have launched a new wave of litigation seeking to hold fossil fuel companies liable for damages caused by climate change. To date, 13 cities and counties in California, Colorado, Washington, and New York have filed lawsuits against major oil and gas producers such as ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, and Shell, and in July the state of Rhode Island initiated its own legal proceedings, suing over damages caused to its infrastructure and coastal communities by climate change – the first time a US state has done so.1 The basic argument underpinning these suits is that these companies knowingly contributed to climate change by extracting and selling fossil fuels, obscuring the science of climate change, and fighting policies aimed at mitigating climate change (Heede2016) – and consequently they should therefore be held accountable for some of the adaptation costs incurred by governments.

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