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Hawaii youth-led climate change case reaches historic settlement

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The state of Hawaii settled a landmark case with a group of youth alleging the state was violating their rights with pollution-causing infrastructure. The group called on the state to commit to a transportation system with zero emissions by 2045.

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The case, Navahine v. Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation, is the world’s first youth-led constitutional challenge to address transportation climate pollution.

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Gov. Josh Green announced the settlement Thursday, June 20, praising the young people who he said had been “suing the crap out of me for the better part of the last couple years.”

“The passion demonstrated by these young people in advocating for a healthy, sustainable future for their generation and those to come, is laudable,” Green said.

Thirteen youth from Hawaii brought the case forward in the summer of 2022, and the Hawaii government has spent around $3 million arguing against it. The settlement came just a couple days before the expected June 24 trial. 

As part of the settlement, the Hawaii Department of Transportation will create a plan to reach zero emissions for all transportation systems in the islands, land, air, and sea, by 2045. The state already had a pre-existing goal of becoming carbon neutral by that year. 

“Climate change is indisputable,” Hawaii Director of Transportation Ed Sniffen said. “Burying our heads in the sand and making it the next generation’s problem is not pono.”

In Hawaii, the word pono means to be righteous and upstanding. 

The department will also set aside at least $40 million to build additional public electric vehicle charging stations by 2030. These efforts will be advised by a volunteer youth council that will be established in the coming years.

“We’re the most isolated land mass on the planet.” Green said. “We’re too dependent on fossil fuels. We’re vulnerable to climate change impacts like sea level rise, coastal erosion, extreme weather events as we saw in Maui, coral bleaching – which is devastating to the fauna that are in the ocean – so it’s very important that they stand up for the future.”  

The nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust, one of the parties representing the youth, is also supporting several other groups of young people in suing their state governments for accelerating climate change through both their policies and inaction. This is the first of its kind to reach a resolution.

Rylee Brook, one of the plaintiffs, called out to other youth to be active in their climate advocacy.

“Today is a testament to what can be achieved when we stand together with purpose and conviction to hold our governments to their promises for our planet,” Brook said.

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LAUREN TAYLOR: THE STATE OF HAWAI’I SETTLED A LANDMARK CASE WITH A GROUP OF YOUTH ALLEGING THE STATE WAS VIOLATING THEIR RIGHTS WITH POLLUTION-CAUSING INFRASTRUCTURE. THEY CALLED ON THE STATE TO COMMIT TO A TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM WITH ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2045.

THE CASE IS THE WORLD’S FIRST YOUTH-LED CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGE TO ADDRESS TRANSPORTATION CLIMATE POLLUTION.

GOV. JOSH GREEN ANNOUNCED THE SETTLEMENT THURSDAY, PRAISING THE YOUNG PEOPLE. 

GOV. JOSH GREEN: JUST A FEW MOMENTS AGO WE WERE SITTING OVER IN THE CONFERENCE ROOM AND I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE WITH THE VERY GROUP THAT HAD BEEN SUING THE CRAP OUT OF ME FOR THE BETTER PART OF THE LAST COUPLE YEARS.

LAUREN TAYLOR: THIRTEEN YOUTH FROM HAWAI’I BROUGHT THE CASE FORWARD IN THE SUMMER OF 2022, AND THE HAWAI’I GOVERNMENT HAS SPENT AROUND $3 MILLION ARGUING AGAINST IT. THE SETTLEMENT CAME JUST A COUPLE DAYS BEFORE THE EXPECTED JUNE 24TH TRIAL. 

AS PART OF THE SETTLEMENT, THE HAWAI’I DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION WILL CREATE A PLAN TO REACH ZERO EMISSIONS FOR ALL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS IN THE ISLANDS, LAND, AIR, AND SEA, BY 2045. THE STATE ALREADY HAD A PRE-EXISTING GOAL OF BECOMING CARBON NEUTRAL BY THAT YEAR. 

“CLIMATE CHANGE IS INDISPUTABLE,” HAWAI’I’S DIRECTOR OF TRANSPORTATION SAID, “BURYING OUR HEADS IN THE SAND AND MAKING IT THE NEXT GENERATION’S PROBLEM IS NOT PONO.” IN HAWAI’I, THE WORD PONO MEANS TO BE RIGHTEOUS AND UPSTANDING. 

THE DEPARTMENT WILL ALSO SET ASIDE AT LEAST $40 MILLION TO BUILD ADDITIONAL PUBLIC ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING STATIONS BY 2030. THESE EFFORTS WILL BE ADVISED BY A VOLUNTEER YOUTH COUNCIL THAT WILL BE ESTABLISHED IN THE COMING YEARS.

GOV. JOSH GREEN: WE’RE THE MOST ISOLATED LAND MASS ON THE PLANET. WE’RE TOO DEPENDENT ON FOSSIL FUELS. WE’RE VULNERABLE TO CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS LIKE SEA LEVEL RISE, COASTAL EROSION, EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS AS WE SAW IN MAUI, CORAL BLEACHING – WHICH IS DEVASTATING TO THE FAUNA THAT ARE IN THE OCEAN – SO IT’S VERY IMPORTANT THAT THEY STAND UP FOR THE FUTURE. 

LAUREN TAYLOR: THE NONPROFIT LAW FIRM OUR CHILDREN’S TRUST, ONE OF THE PARTIES REPRESENTING THE YOUTH, IS ALSO SUPPORTING SEVERAL OTHER GROUPS OF YOUNG PEOPLE IN SUING THEIR STATE GOVERNMENTS FOR ACCELERATING CLIMATE CHANGE THROUGH BOTH THEIR POLICIES AND INACTION. THIS IS THE FIRST OF ITS KIND TO REACH A RESOLUTION.

RILEY BROOK, ONE OF THE PLAINTIFFS, CALLED OUT TO OTHER YOUTH TO BE ACTIVE IN THEIR CLIMATE ADVOCACY. 

RILEY BROOK: TODAY IS A TESTAMENT TO WHAT CAN BE ACHIEVED WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER WITH PURPOSE AND CONVICTION TO HOLD OUR GOVERNMENT TO THEIR PROMISES FOR OUR PLANET.

LAUREN TAYLOR: FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS, I’M LAUREN TAYLOR. IF YOU WANT MORE UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACTS – DOWNLOAD THE SAN APP OR VISIT SAN.COM.