The US state of California is suing five global heavyweight oil and gas companies and the American Petroleum Institute (API), claiming that for decades they misled the public over the climate change impact of exploiting and burning fossil fuels.

Those being hauled over the coals are the US top three — ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips — Shell and BP of the UK, and the API.

The civil lawsuit alleges oil and gas executives knew that reliance on fossil fuels would have catastrophic results but suppressed the information via disinformation.

Their deception allegedly caused a delayed societal response to global warming, which has resulted in billions of dollars’ worth of damage caused by disasters including drought, wildfires and storms to California, the legal challenge said.

The lawsuit, which was filed on 15 September in the Superior Court in San Francisco by California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta, is seeking damages from the oil industry to help pay for the costs of climate change.

The plaintiff also wants the creation of an abatement fund to pay for any future damage caused by climate-related disasters in the state.

'Meritless, politicised lawsuits"

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicised lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” Ryan Meyers, general counsel of the API, was quoted by The New York Times.

“Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system.”

The Financial Times reported that the legal action follows sweeping legislation last week passed by California state legislators that would force major polluters to calculate and disclose carbon emissions tied to supply and use of their products for the first time.

“For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us — covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet,” said California governor Gavin Newsom.

“California taxpayers should not have to foot the bill. California is taking action to hold big polluters accountable.”

Shell said that while it agreed action was needed now on climate change and it fully supports the transition to a lower-carbon future, the issue should not be addressed in a courtroom.

“Smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress,” the Financial Times quoted UK supermajor Shell.

California’s legal complaint claims oil industry scientists knew as early as the 1950s of the detrimental impact of burning fossil fuels and the limited time in which to take mitigating action.

Chevron said in a statement that climate change is a global problem that requires a co-ordinated international response and not piecemeal litigation.

“California has long been a leading promoter of oil and gas development. Its local courts have no constructive or constitutionally permissible role in crafting global energy policy,” said the US supermajor.

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