New York (AFP) - New York announced plans Wednesday to sell off $5 billion in fossil fuel investments from city pension funds after suing for billions of dollars in damages from oil companies to help fund protection against climate change.
While other cities in Europe and the United States have already taken similar steps, New York hailed its move as significant as it is the biggest metropolis in the country. The city suffered billions of dollars of damage in Hurricane Sandy.
New York's $189 billion pension fund -- held for city employees such as police officers, teachers and firefighters -- currently has around $5 billion in securities of more than 190 fossil fuel companies, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said staff will instruct fund trustees to start analyzing ways to divest responsibly from fossil fuel over the next five years, in a process that officials warned would not be easy and that would take time.
"New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels," de Blasio.
US President Donald Trump inflamed the world last year by announcing that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, setting off a crescendo of efforts by Democrat-run cities and states to shrink the country's carbon footprint.
A report issued at UN talks last November said those efforts would not fully counteract Trump's decision to reverse climate policies and promote fossil fuel use.
In December, the United States did not attend international climate talks in Paris, at which countries announced they were boosting investment in green energy and divesting from fossil fuels.
New York, home to 8.5 million residents and the US financial capital, is a bastion of opposition to Trump.
The city has filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell to help compensate its $20 billion plan to protect the city, economy and public services from the effects of climate change.
De Blasio drew comparisons between oil companies and the tobacco industry, which knowingly profited out of a habit they knew to be harmful.
- Courts 'not the answer' -
"New York City is taking on these five giants because they are the central actors, they are the first ones responsible for this crisis, and they should not get away with it anymore," de Blasio told reporters.
"As climate change continues to worsen, it's up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient," he added.
Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell issued statements calling the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions a global issue that required more sweeping action than lawsuits.
BP and ConocoPhillips declined to comment.
"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, not by the courts," said a spokesperson for Shell.
Hurricane Sandy paralyzed New York in 2012, causing nine-foot (three-meter) floods across coastal New York and New Jersey, and an estimated $71 billion in damage.
A study published by researchers last October warned that rising sea levels from man-made climate change could prompt catastrophic flooding in New York as frequently as once every five years by 2030 to 2045.
Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also unveiled plans to divest state pension funds from fossil fuel investments.
In June 2016, the largest public pension fund in the US capital Washington said it had successfully purged its $6.4 billion fund of all direct holdings in fossil fuels.
Later that year, global movement DivestInvest said funds held by institutions and individuals committed to divesting from fossil fuel had reached $5.2 trillion.