Hawaii will decarbonize its transportation in ‘groundbreaking’ youth climate change settlement
Youth plaintiffs gather before the start of the Navahine F. v. the Hawai'i Department of Transportation hearing at the First Circuit Environmental Court in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, on Jan. 26, 2023. | Elyse Butler for Earthjustice

On Thursday, Hawaii agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by 13 young people alleging the state had violated their constitutional rights with infrastructure that adds to greenhouse (GHG) emissions, exacerbating climate change.

In the settlement, the state agreed to decarbonize its transportation system by 2045.

At a news conference, Governor of Hawaii Josh Green, a Democrat, called the settlement “groundbreaking,” reported Reuters.

“We’re addressing the impacts of climate change today, and needless to say, this is a priority because we know now that climate change is here,” Green said, as Reuters reported. “It is not something that we’re considering in an abstract way in the future.”

Navahine v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT) is the first constitutional climate case led by youth that addresses climate pollution from transportation, a press release from Earthjustice said.

In the lawsuit, youth plaintiffs asserted their state’s constitutional rights to a healthy and safe climate. They asked Hawaii’s government to take needed actions to address the climate crisis and shift to a transportation system with zero emissions.

The young people argued that Hawaii had been focusing on projects like highway expansion and construction, rather than making projects that reduce carbon emissions more of a priority, reported Reuters.

“The settlement agreement, which the court has approved, recognizes children’s constitutional rights to a life-sustaining climate and mobilizes HDOT to plan and implement transformative changes of Hawaiʻi’s transportation system to achieve zero emissions in all ground transportation, and interisland sea and air transportation, by 2045. The court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the agreement for the next 21 years until its terms have been achieved,” the press release said.

The settlement includes provisions for immediate and ongoing steps for HDOT to take to implement changes to the state’s transportation system, including establishing a plan for GHG reductions within one year; creating a council of youth volunteers to advise HDOT; and making investments in green transportation infrastructure, including the dedication of at least $40 million for the expansion of public electric vehicle charging stations by 2030 and the completion of bicycle, pedestrian and transit networks within five years.

“Hawai‘i’s young people raised their voices to protect our future here in the islands, and their voices were heard. Today’s settlement shows that the State and HDOT are committed to transformative action to reduce our transportation emissions before it’s too late. This new partnership puts climate action in the fast lane towards a more just and equitable future,” said Earthjustice senior associate attorney Leinā‘ala Ley in the press release.

Many of the youth are Native Hawaiians who have been experiencing climate change impacts such as sea level risefloodingdrought, and wildfires. These climate hazards have threatened cultural traditions like fishing, kalo farming and gathering, as well as put their lives at risk.

“Being heard and moving forward in unity with the State to combat climate change is incredibly gratifying, and empowering. This partnership marks a pivotal step towards preserving Hawai‘i for future generations — one that will have a ripple effect on the world. I hope our case inspires youth to always use their voices to hold leaders accountable for the future they will inherit,” said youth plaintiff Rylee Brooke K. in the press release.

This article was reposted from EcoWatch.

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Cristen Hemingway Jaynes
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes covers the environment, climate change, oceans, the Arctic, animals, anthropology, astronomy, plastics pollution, and politics. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law.