Supporting Cities' Rights and Efforts to Mitigate Climate Change Damages and Protect Taxpayers from Related Adaptation Costs

Adopted at the 87th Annual Meeting in 2019

  • WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors has adopted multiple resolutions over the past several years concerning the impacts of climate change on cities, including findings that:
    • Scientific evidence is increasingly clear that human activities are largely responsible for the accelerating changes in the global climate [2016];
    • Climate change poses a major threat to the health and livelihood of American cities, with impacts as wide-ranging as increased flooding, drought, reduced water supply, fire, public health impacts, habitat loss, and invasive species [2016];
    • Climate change, if unchecked, will have mounting impacts on human health, natural systems, and infrastructure, creating new costs for individuals, businesses, and governments [2016];
    • Climate change has had a disproportionate impact on low income and disadvantaged communities [2016];
    • The Third National Climate assessment shows that cities will continue to bear the brunt of environmental, public health, and safety impacts associated with climate change [2015];
    • The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have stated that climate-driven hazards will require tens of billions of dollars in investments to strengthen the nation's water, wastewater, and energy systems [2015];
    • Cities are already having to invest billions of dollars annually in infrastructure and support services to deal with climate change's impacts of heat waves, droughts, and torrential rain events [2017]; and

    WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has adopted resolutions:
    • Urging "local governments to prepare for and mitigate impacts associated with sea level rise" [2016];
    • Urging Congress to support "efforts that will provide cities the tools they need to combat climate change" [2017];
    • Supporting "federal action including funding to help cities prepare for the impacts of climate change" [2016];
    • Urging Congress to "provide funding to cities and states to improve local and regional resiliency capabilities to mitigate the substantial economic and human losses relating from these increasingly extreme weather events" [2015]; and

    WHEREAS, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), completed in November 2018, is a comprehensive and authoritative report on climate change and its impacts in the United States that reaffirms municipal concerns expressed in the Third Assessment and intensifies the urgency of both emission reductions and protective adaptations; and

    WHEREAS, major fossil fuel companies have known for nearly 50 years through their own research and experts that their products were dangerous and would cause the billions of dollars in climate change-related damages facing cities today; and

    WHEREAS, major fossil fuel companies and related trade groups spent billions of dollars on public relations and lobbying campaigns to obscure the truth from the public and elected officials about the potentially catastrophic consequences of burning fossil fuels, even while some of those companies were protecting their own assets from rising seas and other impacts of climate change; and

    WHEREAS, actions taken by major fossil fuel companies, which knowingly produced, marketed, promoted, and deceived the public about products that are causing climate change, are forcing cities to spend billions of dollars on measures to adapt to rising seas, more extreme storms, and other consequences of climate change; and

    WHEREAS, within the U.S., eight cities, six counties, and one state, collectively representing approximately 15,374,000 million people or 4.7% of the total population, have filed lawsuits over the past two years to protect their residents and taxpayers by holding fossil fuel companies accountable for costs of climate damages and adaptation measures; and

    WHEREAS, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, together with the National League of Cities and the International Municipal Lawyers Association, has filed amicus briefs in support of many of those climate damages lawsuits because they "raise textbook claims under state law, seeking to allocate fairly a portion of the significant costs required to protect city and county residents from harms inflicted by Defendants' products;" and

    WHEREAS, America's courts play a critically important role in our system of checks-and-balances, and in 1999 the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution opposing state and federal legislative efforts to preempt local government access to the court system; and

    WHEREAS, several major fossil fuel companies and related trade groups are advocating for legislation that would give fossil fuel companies immunity from lawsuits over climate change-related costs and damages or to "eliminate municipalities' power to bring suit or assert specific causes of action."

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors believes that the costs of measures to repair and adapt to current and future climate change-related damages should not fall solely on the residents, workers, and businesses in our cities; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors reiterates its call for Congress to ensure that cities have the resources to protect their residents from the impacts of climate change, with a special focus on the equitable distribution of resources for low income and disadvantaged communities, including the rights of cities to have access to the courts to resolve disputes over climate change-related damages and adaptation costs; and

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors opposes any legislation, whether in Congress or state legislatures, that attempts to limit or eliminate cities' access to the courts by overriding existing laws or in any way giving fossil fuel companies immunity from lawsuits over climate change-related costs and damages.

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