Honolulu is seeking to make polluters pay for climate damages fueled by Big Oil’s deception

More than three years after the City and County of Honolulu filed a lawsuit to make major oil companies pay for climate damages they knowingly caused, the case is heading toward trial. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of Hawai’i this week denied motions from ExxonMobil, Sunoco, and other oil majors to dismiss the case, clearing a path for Honolulu communities to finally get their day in court.

The justices wrote that Honolulu’s complaint “clearly seeks to challenge the promotion and sale of fossil-fuel products without warning and abetted by a sophisticated disinformation campaign” and that oil companies’ arguments claiming otherwise “fail.”

From extended droughts to coastal erosion, Honolulu communities are paying the price for fossil-fueled climate change. The Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission conservatively estimates that the cost of lost land, beaches, roads, infrastructure, and displaced residents from sea level rise and chronic flooding will reach $19 billion by the end of the century. Neighboring Maui County, which is also suing Big Oil for climate damages, was devastated earlier this year when a climate-fueled wildfire ripped through the historic town of Lahaina, killing 98 people, displacing thousands of residents, and causing at least $3 billion in damages.
“We will continue pursuing this case in the trial court where we filed it three and half years ago, and where discovery can now begin in earnest,” Matthew Gonser, Executive Director of Honolulu's Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, said after the court’s ruling. “This is a good day for advancing our efforts to help Honolulu survive the costs and consequences of the climate crisis.”

This week’s ruling will expand the pre-trial discovery process, through which Honolulu can seek additional evidence of the industry’s climate lies from the oil companies. 

"Honolulu's case is now one of the most important climate lawsuits in the country, if not the world,” said CCI Managing Attorney Corey Riday-White. “Because of this ruling, Honolulu is poised to obtain more evidence of Big Oil's decades-long campaign of climate deception through the discovery process, and we're one giant step closer to that evidence getting in front of a jury tasked with deciding whether these polluters are liable for billions in climate damages."