Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Decarbonization by 2045 agreed: Youth-led climate lawsuit settled in Hawaii


NEW DELHI: The state of Hawaii reached a settlement with 13 young plaintiffs who sued the government over its handling of climate change, resulting in a landmark agreement to decarbonize Hawaii’s transportation system by 2045.
About two years ago, the plaintiffs, aged between 10 and 20, filed the lawsuit, Navahine v. Hawaii Department of Transportation, claiming that the state’s reliance on fossil fuels for its transportation infrastructure violated their constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment.This case marked the world’s first youth-led climate lawsuit targeting emissions from the transportation sector.
Circuit Court Judge John M. Tonaki signed off on the settlement agreement on Thursday, effectively ending the need for the trial scheduled for next week. The plaintiffs were represented by Earthjustice and Our Children’s Trust, organizations dedicated to environmental advocacy.
Key provisions of the settlement
The agreement includes a commitment from Hawaii to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions across all transportation modes, including ground, sea, and air transport, by 2045. Within the next year, the state must devise a comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction plan. Additionally, Hawaii’s Department of Transportation is tasked with completing pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks in collaboration with county authorities within five years.
Investment of at least $40 million is also pledged to expand the public electric vehicle charging network by 2030.
“They really have no choice but to step up and address the climate crisis in order to protect their residents and young people who want to live here,” said Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust.
Youth Plaintiffs’ concerns
The lawsuit brought to light the personal impacts of climate change on the young plaintiffs. A 14-year-old Native Hawaiian girl, who comes from a family that has farmed taro for over 10 generations, faced severe disruptions due to extreme weather patterns attributed to climate change. Rising sea levels threatened to submerge their ancestral lands.
Another plaintiff experienced the loss of her home twice due to climate change-related disasters: once from flooding caused by a hurricane in 2018 and again during last year’s devastating wildfire in Lahaina, Maui.
Hawaii’s position and costs
While Hawaii Governor Josh Green and Transportation Director Ed Sniffen celebrated the settlement, reaching this point was arduous. The state had initially moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the court overstepped its bounds by attempting to dictate regulatory policy to the Department of Transportation.
The state spent nearly $3 million in legal fees, including costs for out-of-state legal representation and expert witnesses, underscoring the contentious nature of the proceedings.
“There was resistance,” Rodgers noted, but acknowledged that the state’s leaders ultimately chose to collaborate with the youth plaintiffs rather than oppose them. “Gov. Green and … Sniffen displayed incredible leadership and made the decision to work with the youth and not against them.”
Implications and future steps
The settlement is not only for its terms but also for its precedent as the first agreement of its kind addressing constitutional climate claims by youth against a state government. It is expected to influence similar ongoing cases in Montana and Oregon, and may even resonate in international legal arenas, such as the European Court of Human Rights where young plaintiffs from Portugal are arguing for more robust climate protections.
In the aftermath of the settlement, Hawaii faces the challenge of transforming its car-dependent culture and infrastructure. “I think once people start seeing the investments that are needed to be done into the bike, pedestrian and transit assets, people are really going to start seeing that this is a system that works better for Hawaii and for the community,” said Rodgers.

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