U.S. District Court Judge John F. Keenan dismissed New York's lawsuit against five big oil and gas companies for their role in climate change. Following two dismissed lawsuits by San Francisco and Oakland seeking to hold the fossil fuel industry financially responsible for the global warming damages related to rising sea levels, the U.S. District Court held that global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.
The New York City government has filed a lawsuit against BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s five largest publicly traded oil companies, seeking to hold them responsible for present and future damage to the city from climate change. In particular, New York claimed that the companies together produced 11 percent of all of global-warming gases through the oil and gas products they have sold over the years and, thus, significantly contributed to climate change. Moreover, the companies allegedly downplayed the risks of burning fossil fuels while privately acknowledging the threat of global warming for decades. Therefore, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell should compensate the city for the cost of mitigating the effects of climate change.
On the other hand, the Royal Dutch Shell argued that “climate change is a complex societal challenge that should be addressed through sound government policy and cultural change to drive low-carbon choices for businesses and consumers.” Exxon Mobil said: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions. Lawsuits of this kind — filed by trial attorneys against an industry that provides products we all rely upon to power the economy and enable our domestic life — simply do not do that.”
The court concluded that the city's claims raise concerns about separation of powers and foreign policy. Since the New York City government filed a lawsuit against foreign companies, namely BP and Shell and sought to hold energy companies liable for worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, claims are barred by the presumption against extraterritoriality and the need for judicial caution in the face of serious foreign policy consequences.
The U.S. District Court said: “The immense and complicated problem of global warming requires a comprehensive solution that weighs the global benefits of fossil fuel use with the gravity of the impending harms.” Thus, global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government, in particular the Congress and the Executive Branch.
In response to the judgment, the Royal Dutch Shell made a following statement: “Judge Keenan’s decision reaffirms our view that climate change is a complex societal challenge that requires sound governmental policy and is not an issue for the courts.” Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, said, “we intend to appeal this decision and to keep fighting for New Yorkers who will bear the brunt of climate change.”