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Western Oil Companies Face The Courts Over Contested Climate Science

Robin Pagnamenta, The Times

An investigation by New York’s attorney-general into ExxonMobil’s record on climate science could trigger a “cascade” of similar claims against other oil companies, including Britain’s BP and Royal Dutch Shell, legal experts have warned.

Prosecutors might seek to investigate other companies that helped to fund organisations that queried climate science, such as the Global Climate Coalition, of which BP and Shell were members during the 1990s, they said.

Eloise Scotford, senior lecturer in environmental law at King’s College London, said: “If they manage to draw a link between the science and the financial risks posed by climate change, then I think that would lead to a cascade of following claims.”

Investigators are likely to search for discrepancies between the companies’ private and public statements for evidence that oil groups may have dismissed the dangers posed by climate change to shareholders and the public, while being advised privately that it was a serious threat.

Shares in ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, fell 0.4 per cent yesterday after it emerged that it had been subpoenaed on Wednesday by Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney-general, demanding financial records, emails and other documents.

Experts say that internal company documents may contradict what ExxonMobil said in public about climate change, potentially opening up a legal argument that it failed to warn its shareholders or the public about risks that its scientists were aware of.

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