World’s sixth-largest economy sues fossil fuel industry over climate responsibility
The Wall Street Journal last week published a major expose showing that Exxon Mobil executives for years worked to undermine climate science after the company had publicly—though very belatedly—acknowledged the link between carbon emissions and climate change. It was fitting then, if coincidental, that the following day Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the State of California is suing Exxon Mobil, four more multinational oil companies, and the American Petroleum Institute for intentionally misleading the public about climate change and fossil fuels. The California lawsuit, which seeks to hold the oil industry accountable for environmental harms that have been accelerated by human-caused climate change, comes after several other states and cities have filed similar claims. As the sixth largest economy in the world, California has suddenly placed itself at the head of the pack threatening the industry in court.
The new lawsuit was only one of several recent climate actions from California. State lawmakers last week passed a number of bills increasing accountability and oversight over fossil fuel industries, along with several measures boosting clean energy.
Climate youth action: organized and on the rise
Climate advocacy was in the streets this week across the nation and beyond, as part of an organized Climate Week coinciding with a United Nations climate summit in New York. Young people in many communities organized local actions as part of a global climate strike calling for an end to our economy-wide dependence on fossil fuels. Young people across Oregon held marches to demand that state leaders declare a climate emergency and direct emergency funds to tackle a range of climate issues. Portland youth demanded that the city deny an air quality permit to Zenith Energy, as the company seeks to expand oil transportation by rail in the city. Young people in Bend asked for a city-wide electrification plan. A youth climate strike In Boise, Idaho pushed for more solar power adoption. In Albuquerquue, New Mexico, young people promoted a wind and solar energy transition for the state. Los Angeles young people advocated for an end to oil drilling, climate friendly housing, greening of schools and expanded public transportation. All of this activity was inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future climate protests in Sweden; this form of youth climate action is going strong across the the globe.
Another avenue for young people to act on climate opened this week as the Biden administration announced plans to launch an American Climate Corps. This project inspired by New Deal-era government programs resembles the Civilian Climate Corps proposed in 2021 by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Climate Corps will provide young people with direct opportunities to make a difference on climate into climate action now, while training in green jobs for their future.
Against the backdrop of global climate protests, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres convened a one-day Climate Ambition Summit earlier this week. The event’s name itself signaled both the urgent need for nations to think bigger in terms of climate commitments, and some resignation to the fact that past calls for climate action have gone unheeded. In his opening remarks, Guterres said that while a transition to clean energy was underway, “we are decades behind… we must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels.” Neither the US nor Chinese heads of state were invited to participate in the summit, indicating a lack of confidence in carbon-reduction efforts undertaken by the world’s two largest climate polluters.
The agenda for the summit, which took place two months in advance of the COP 28 climate talks in the United Arab Emirates, included a focus on wealthy nations’ responsibility to assist developing nations adapt to climate change, a topic summarized as “loss and damage.” Many developing nations produce relatively little of the world’s carbon emissions, but bear the brunt of climate impacts such as extreme heat and sea level rise.
There were also steps backward: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shockingly reversed course on a number of that country’s existing carbon-reduction initiatives. Defying the counsel of his government’s own Climate Change Committee, Sunak announced plans to eliminate or delay requirements intended to accelerate the nation's transition to clean energy.
A coalition of major financial institutions issued an investment strategy paper this week intended to move big industry towards net zero emissions. But their strategy advocates continuing to invest in companies whose emissions are going up rather than down—a contradiction one of the paper’s authors explained as “a viable strategy.” The sixty largest financial institutions have invested more than $5.5 trillion in new fossil fuel development since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016.