CITY has filed a lawsuit against five of the world's largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies - BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell - for billions of dollars to cover its costs for climate change.
Sea levels in NY have risen more than foot since 1900, according to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation-twice the global rate. The City has already set up a US$20bn resiliency programme to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
The Big Apple is the biggest city to take this legal action but not the first.
For the plan to go through, the trustees of the city's five funds must agree and conclude that divestiture is in the best interest of the pensioners.
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.
"Government pension managers have a responsibility by law to seek the greatest return for their investors, and pensions that invest in oil and natural gas companies have delivered a stronger return than other investments".
"In this litigation, the City seeks to shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done almost all they could to create this existential threat", says the lawsuit brought by NY corporation counsel Zachary Carter, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY. If favourable, the divestments will be carried out according to a specific schedule to minimise costs.
"Today Mayor de Blasio turned his back millions of first responders, police officers and public employees who depend on their pensions to provide for themselves and their families in retirement", said Karen Moreau of the American Petroleum Institute, the largest US oil and gas lobbying group.
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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", the mayor said.
De Blasio claimed fossil fuel companies were complicit in worsening climate change because they knew of the problem decades ago but continued to sell a product to Americans that contributed to more greenhouse gas emissions.
Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall called the lawsuit meritless and said the litigation will do nothing to address climate change. "The mayor's announcement may raise his profile, but it will do nothing to address climate change and will ultimately fail".
Commenting on the action, Exxon Mobil said in a statement: "Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue and requires global participation and actions".
Industry bodies have also reacted with dismay. Under Trump, the federal government has attempted the withdraw the USA from the Paris climate accords, tear up Barack Obama's signature climate policies and open up vast areas of America's land and waters to coal, oil and gas interests. De Blasio's office said climate change is "perhaps the toughest challenge New York City will face in the coming decades". Naomi Klein, a director of environmentalist group 350.org said that it represents a "collective victory for the fantastic climate justice movement".
New York City is suing five oil companies over climate change.
"Not to overstate the case, but I actually think this could change the world", Klein said.
Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (KWOH'-moh) also plans to have the state pension funds begin to divest. Last year, San Francisco and Oakland sued Big Oil on similar grounds.
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