Hawaii reaches settlement with young people who sued over climate change

Thirteen Hawaii children and teenagers sued the state government facing the threat posed by climate change. They are now celebrating a settlement that emphasizes a plan to decarbonize Hawaii’s transportation system over the next 20 years.

It’s the latest example of frustrated youth in the United States taking their climate concerns to court.

The settlement obtained in the Navahine v. The Hawaii Department of Transportation recognizes children’s constitutional rights to a healthy climate, the governor said. Josh Green and attorneys from the public interest law firms Our Children’s Trust and Earthjustice said in separate statements Thursday.

The youths had argued that Hawaii was violating the state constitution by operating a transportation system that harms the climate and infringes on the right to a clean and healthy environment. Specifically, they accused the Hawaii Department of Transportation of systematically prioritizing highway construction over other types of transportation.

The burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – is the largest contributor to human-induced global warming. Hawaii is the state in the United States most dependent on oil for its energy needs, according to Our Children’s Trust.

The parties said the settlement was the first between a state government and youth plaintiffs to constitutionally resolve issues arising from climate change.

“Climate change is indisputable,” Transportation Director Ed Sniffen said in the governor’s statement. “Putting your head in the sand and making it the problem of the next generation is not pono,” or it’s not fair.

Personal frustrations led to the 2022 trial, along with a broader sense of activism that has animated youth climate movements across the world.

The lawsuit said one plaintiff, a 14-year-old Native Hawaiian raised in Kaneohe, came from a family that had grown taro for more than 10 generations. However, extreme climatic droughts and heavy rains brought on by the change have reduced crop yields and threatened its ability to continue this cultural practice.

The complaint said rising sea levels also threatened to submerge their land.

Provisions of the settlement include establishing a greenhouse gas reduction plan within one year of the agreement that sets out a roadmap to decarbonize Hawaii’s transportation system over the next 20 years.

The provisions also include “immediate and ambitious investments in clean transportation infrastructure,” such as completing pedestrian and bicycle networks within five years and committing at least $40 million to expand the public network. charging of electric vehicles by 2030.

A council of young volunteers will advise the Ministry of Transport.

The plaintiffs said they found some hope in the settlement.

“Being heard and moving forward in unity with the state to combat climate change is incredibly rewarding and empowering,” one plaintiff, identified as Rylee Brooke K., said in a statement.

Elsewhere, youth efforts to pressure the state or federal government have been mixed.

The city of Honolulu Two lawsuits filed against major oil and gas companies, accusing them of engaging in a deceptive campaign and misleading the public about the dangers of their fossil fuel products and their environmental impacts. Oil companies have appealed to the Supreme Court to try to stop the lawsuits from continuing.

In May, a federal appeals court rejected a long-running lawsuit brought by young Oregon-based climate activists who claimed the U.S. government’s role in climate change violated their constitutional rights.

Earlier this year, the Montana State Supreme Court rejected a request for a state blockade. the historic decision on climate That said, regulators must consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions when issuing permits for fossil fuel development while their appeal is pending. This case was filed by young plaintiffs. Oral arguments before the Montana Supreme Court are scheduled for July 10.

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