The cities of San Francisco and Oakland in California are suing a group of the world's largest oil companies over the role they have played in climate change. The two suits claim that the group, which includes Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, produced greenhouse gases that have led to a sea level rise and did so knowledgeably.
The suits demand compensation for costs associated to flooding and property damage, including the cost of significantly upgrading coastal defences.
The suits allege that the oil companies launched PR campaigns to discredit scientific evidence pointing towards their culpability in climate change and that they have known since the 1980s the damage that greenhouse gases cause.
With both cities situated in low-lying coastal areas the damage caused by flooding due to sea level rise could be immense. San Francisco city council estimates that around $10 billion of public property and up to $39 billion of private property are at risk.
Similar ‘public nuisance’ suits have been filed in the past but have been unsuccessful as courts ruled that government-led climate regulation took precedence. However during Donald Trump’s presidency the federal government has taken a step back on climate change regulation which has opened up the path for more nuisance suits like these.
Due to the US government’s step back on climate change regulation, such suits are much more likely to come across the country as individual cities and states try and find another method to fight climate change. Already in California there have been legal challenges from five different municipal authorities since June 2017 (Marin, San Mateo, San Francisco and Oakland, Imperial Beach).